It's hardly surprising that Southeast Asia attracts so many seasoned travellers. This part of the world is wonderfully diverse, blending a colourful and enigmatic combination of cultures. I've seen a snapshot in Singapore, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Like most travel enthusiasts, I'm keen to make my way around the delights of southeast Asia and absorb as much as I can as I pass through each magical country. Southeast Asia certainly has all the ingredients for a one-of-a-kind trip, with its bustling cities, delicious cheap food, gorgeous beaches, welcoming people and incredible scenery, from rice paddies and ancient ruins to paradise beaches and floating villages.
One day you'll be digging out a bargain in the busy market, and the next you could be cycling amongst some of the world's most epic temples. What's not to love? It's my dream to book an epic trip of a lifetime through some of Southeast Asia's most beautiful and intriguing spots.
It's best not to try and cram too many places into a fairly short trip, as you'll most likely run out of time. The best thing to do is to pick your starting point, and figure out where you can realistically travel to. Most people start their Southeast Asia adventures off in Bangkok, Singapore or Hong Kong. These are all ideal places to begin your trip.
My ideal Southeast Asian itinerary
Here's my rough travel itinerary for a month long trip to Southeast Asia.
Hong Kong - Two to three days
Personally, I think Hong Kong is the ideal place to begin your Asian adventure. Start your trip in an awe-inspiring, modern city, and then gradually step back in time from there onwards. Hong Kong is constantly changing at an astonishing rate, with new restaurants, buildings and significant sites popping up everywhere. And it's your gateway to Asia, spend a few days here and then embark on your Southeast Asian adventure.
Hong Kong is not just a business hub, dig a little deeper and you will see what the city has hidden amongst its futuristic buildings. The city also boasts a beautiful waterfront set amongst a jungle of mighty skyscrapers.
I'd like to knock back a few cocktails in some of the rooftop bars, test out the tasty yet rather odd street food dishes and see some of the cities main attractions, as well as head off piste to a couple of the nearby local towns. At least 70% of Hong Kong is made up of mountains and parks, there are plenty of places to go hiking and exploring.
What's on my Hong Kong to do list?
- The Big Buddha on Lantau Island - A 34 metre high landmark at the top of 240 steps. I want to see it in the evening when it is illuminated on the mountain.
- The Star Ferry - An ideal way to see the city's attractions by boat.
- The local town of Stanley - A world away from the busy city, I want to explore the pretty beaches, rolling hills and go shopping in this quaint village.
- The Nan Lian Garden - A welcome escape from the busy where you can wander amongst lush vegetation and colourful flowers in these Japanese style gardens.
- Victoria Peak - A mountain in Hong Kong offering breathtaking views of the entire city.
Vietnam - Ten days
Next up, Vietnam, a country that's been on my to do list for years. I'd like to visit Hanoi, the capital city, because it's an excellent place to learn about Vietnamese history. Hanoi is also becoming a Mecca for mouth-watering street food, and I very much intend to indulge. I can't wait to tuck into fresh local delicacies whilst getting caught up in the buzz of the city and stroll along Hoan Kiem Lake.
I also want to visit the beaches in Hoi An if I get time, these are supposed to be some of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon or HCMC) is right down the other end of the country, so I'm not sure if I'd be able to fit it into a short trip. I'd like to go on a day trip to the Mekong Delta, visit the remote fishing villages and bustling floating markets and do some souvenir shopping.
What's on my Vietnam to do list?
- Vietnam Museum of Ethnology - I want to visit the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology to learn about the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam.
- Hoa Lo Prison - It's well preserved prison which exposes the conditions that prisoners lived in and gives visitors an insight into what they went through.
- Halong Bay - This iconic site is about four hour's drive from Hanoi, so if I get time, I'd love to squeeze in a visit. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site with thousands of limestone islands surrounded by stunning emerald waters.
- Cu Chi Tunnels - Where the Vietnamese soldiers hid from the Americans during the Vietnam war.
Cambodia - Five to seven days
After travelling from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, I'd head over to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. This is where the Killing Fields are located (Choeung Ek Genocidal Center). As horrendous and shocking as a visit here may be, I want to learn about the history and see this place for myself.
Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh is a wonder to behold, it has got an untamed, controlled chaos kind of vibe, but if you settle into the pace, you will no doubt succumb to the city's charms. Busy food stalls, traffic all over the place and a city that's come a long way since the dark days it still seems to be associated with.
Next up, I'll head to Siem Reap for one of the country's biggest draws, the UNESCO recognised temples of Angkor Wat. I've been told the best way to visit these temples is to stay in a hotel about half an hour away and cycle in by tricycle. I also want to spend a day or so in Siem Reap wandering the streets and shopping in the quirky local shops for bits and bobs.
What's on my Cambodia to do list?
- The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh - A striking complex of buildings with classic Khmer roofs and ornate gilding.
- The Angkor Wat temples - UNESCO World Heritage Site and temple remains, including the world's largest sacred building.
- The Killing Fields of Cambodia - A sombre sight where you can learn about all the killings that took place here. Not for the faint hearted.
- The small villages and countryside surrounding the temples - Untouched places far from the main tourist sites.
Bangkok, Thailand - Three days
Next stop, Bangkok. I'm in two minds as to whether I will like bustling Bangkok. It might be exciting, thrilling and fun, but it's also very hot and sticky, chaotic and a little bit odd. But that's not necessarily a bad thing right?
I imagine Bangkok is a bit of an acquired taste. Like when you try olives for the first time, they assault your mouth a little bit, but the more you have them, the more fond of them you become. Many people don't realise that as well as haggling for bargains, and fighting your way through the crowds to get to the street food stalls, Bangkok also has bars with amazing skyline views, luxury hotels, spas where you can have a much needed pamper, and an all singing, all dancing culinary scene.
What's on my Bangkok to do list?
- Street food - Sample some of the best, most exotic street food in the world.
- Temples - I'd like to see all the mesmerising temples that are dotted in and around the city.
- The Grand Palace - Get some snaps in front of the Grand Palace.
If I've got time, and an extra week to spare at the end of my trip, I'd love to head to Phuket or Koh Samui and finish my trip relaxing on some of Thailand's best beaches. I might even treat myself to a nice five star spa hotel if the budget allows, because this would be the perfect way to finish off an incredible trip. I hope you've found this itinerary useful and it inspires you to book your dream month long multi-destination trip around Southeast Asia.
Now all that's left is to book my trip...
I've done my research and cherry picked my favourite spots to go to. And as you can see, this is clearly going to be one epic trip. I can just picture how incredible visiting all these alluring places will be, and I'm confident that the reality will more than live up to expectations. Now all I need to do is decide when to go and book my trip.
I hope you've found this itinerary useful and it motivates you to plan your dream month long multi-destination trip around Southeast Asia. Keep an eye out for more Asian destination articles by me if you need more inspiration.