So you have a few weeks off work? Want to travel but don't have heaps to spend on a luxury holiday? Planning a holiday but unsure if you'd rather have a beach getaway, a city stay or a more rural adventure? Then this itinerary might be worth a look.
Think of several capital cities, all full of life and excitement yet drastically different from one another, beautiful tropical beaches to swim, dive, relax and suntan, stays in small ancient towns and villages while exploring the famous temples of Angkor Wat, Emperors Tombs of Hue and learning about the Khmer Rouge.
BANGKOK → SIEM REAP → PHNOM PENH → HCMC → NHA TRANG → HOI AN → HUE → HANOI
Backpacking Southeast Asia itinerary: This itinerary is a 3-4 week (minimum) trip starting from Bangkok, where you can spend a few days if you wish exploring the city, riding boats along the river and visiting the temples, sky bars, and markets. From Bangkok, a bus into Cambodia to Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat.
A few days exploring the temples here will be a great experience. Phnom Penh is the next stop by bus, which is the capital of Cambodia and home to many educational museums such as the Genocidal Centre and The Killing Fields. From Phnom Penh, the next stop is Ho Chi Minh City, where you can explore the city and take part in many great and inexpensive day trips such as a Mekong River Tour.
Heading North from HCMC, stopping at Nha Trang (a beautiful, laid back beach resort town), Hoi An (a UNESCO listed romantic and charming small city on the river), Hue (where you can step back in time and explore the many Emperors Tombs and learn about the war at the site of America Hill – a battle site of the Vietnam War.
The trip ends in Hanoi – the capital of Vietnam, where you can explore the city's Old Quarter, visit markets, wall the beautiful lake trail, and go on day and multi-day trips to well-known places such as Sapa and Ha Long Bay.
Backpacking Southeast Asia itinerary: Visas Involved
- Thailand – 30-day free visa waiver stamp on arrival at the airport (15 days by land).
- Cambodia – $30 visa on arrival at border
- Vietnam – $80 visa (needed before arrival as not available at the border).
If arriving at Suvarnabhumi Airport, there are public buses, taxis and sky trains available to take you into the city. If you are planning on staying in the CBD the sky train is suitable, if you are planning to stay out of the CBD (such as on Khao San Road) then you may need to take a taxi or tuk-tuk from the metro station once in the city – or grab a taxi straight to the area your staying (metro and tuk-tuk combination is less expensive than a direct taxi, although a taxi is, of course, less fuss).
If you arrive at Don Muang airport the cheapest option is taking the train to Hualampong Station and from there a Tuk-tuk or taxi to you hotel.
Bangkok Quick Guide
- Accommodation is from 200 baht (~$6.60) for a dorm bed, to 250 baht for a single room with a shared bathroom or private bathroom.
- Sky Bus/Metro Ticket 15 baht – 40 baht per trip (~$.50 – $1.30)
- Tuk Tuks 80 (~$2.60) baht from Hualampong Station to Khao San Road
- Street Food Meal 30 – 60 baht (~$1-$2)
Bangkok → Siem Reap
- Bus or minibus to border & bus to Siem Reap – $28 direct bus, 8 hours. Bus leaves from Mo Chit bus station (Bangkok) and the ticket includes water, a coffee, biscuits and lunch. Tickets can also be booked on private company buses from any travel agent in Bangkok, or minibus if you prefer. *Read my report of common scams at the Thailand/ Cambodian border of Poipet here.
- Plane – Air Asia has a direct flight for $55 from Don Muang Airport in Bangkok.
- Accommodation: dorm room beds from $2, private single room with en suite from $3.
- Meals: restaurant meals from $2
- One Day Ticket To Angkor Wat: $20
- Transport to Angkor Wat: Whole day tuk tuk hire and drive $11 or $25 for a taxi with aircon
- Bicycle Hire: $1/day
Siem Reap → Phnom Penh
- Bus US$10, total travel time is about 6.5 hours depending on the traffic.
- Taxi – if you can find some fellow travelers i taxi is about US$80 and takes about 5 hours.
- Accommodation: dorm beds from $5, private single rooms with en suite from $10
- Meals: market snacks from $1, restaurant meals from $1-3, and fresh fruits at markets are inexpensive.
- Ticket To Museums (Genocidal Centre & The Killing Fields): $2-$3
The Top 10 Things to See in Phnom Penh – Capital City of Cambodia
Phnom Penh → HCMC
Bus ($10, 6 hours)
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
- Accommodation: dorm beds from $4, private singles with en suite $12
- Meals: restaurant meals from $2, street food $1
- Day trip on the Mekong River (including lunch, bus, boat) = $12
- Open Ticket Bus Travel- Vietnam from $45, the price depends on the amount of stop-offs chosen – for this itinerary of HCMC – Nha Trang – Hoi Am – Hue – Hanoi – the cost was $45.
Mekong River Delta Cruise – A Day Trip from Ho Chi Minh City
HCMC → Nha Trang
- Bus: 9 hours– day trip
- Train: 8 hour trip – cost is $18
- Plane: $25 for the 1 hour flight, the airport in Nha Trang is far out so there will be some transfer costs.
- Accommodation: dorms from $5, private rooms with en suite from $8
- Meals: restaurant meals from $2
- Diving: a day of scuba diving from $50
Things to Do in Nha Trang – the Biggest Beach Town in Vietnam
Nha Trang → Hoi An
- Bus – 13 hours, overnight sleeper bus trip
- Train – You will have to take the train to Da Nang, both day trains and sleeper options exist, and from there take transport to Hoi An. Da Nang is definitely worth a visit if you like beaches.
- Plane – The 1 hour flight to Da Nang starts at $40 with Vietnam Airlines, factor in transportation cost to and from each airport.
- Accommodation: private rooms with en suite bathroom in guesthouse from $7
- Meals: open-air restaurant meals from $1
Hoi An is a UNESCO listed town, with romantic shop fronts, a relaxed vibe and beautiful river views, for more information and photos of Hoi An see this post here.
Hoi An → Hue
- Bus – 3 hours, day trip
- Accommodation: The few dorm rooms in Hue get booked up here quite quickly, single rooms with en suite from $7.
- Meals: restaurant meals from $2-$4
- Entrance to some tombs is free, others charge an entrance fee of around $4.
If you'd like to get the low down on what to see and do in Hue and the tombs to visit, you can read an overview of Hue.
Hue → Hanoi
- Bus – travel time 13 hours, overnight trip on a sleeper bus.
- Train – also 13 hours and you have day train and night time sleeper options
- Plane – $27, this one will save you a lot of time.
- Accommodation: dorm beds from $4 (very popular in peak season), private rooms with en suite and breakfast from $11.
- Meals: street food from $1, restaurant meals from $2, fresh fruit markets also very inexpensive.
- Day trip to Ha Long Bay: The ticket from $17, and includes a bus, boat and lunch.
Starting in the capital of Thailand, Bangkok, and ending in Hanoi, Vietnam's lively capital after an adventure through cities, jungles, rivers, villages, temples, monkeys, friendly faces, warm weather and good times. This trip can be done in around 21 days – to 30 days, depending on how many days/nights you wish to stay in each city.
Although you can take this trip for a lot longer if you wish to extensively explore the areas and relax for a week or two on beach stops along the way.
Bookings for accommodation are not necessary – as there are many accommodation options and I find it best to go and look at rooms before I commit to staying. If it is peak season or you wish to book for peace of mind then that's easily done too on booking sites such as booking.com, and hostelbookers.com for example. Transport is easily booked the day before in most cases.