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Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring

Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring

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Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring

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Oct 1, 2018


Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is your passport to having big experiences on a small budget, offering the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, what hidden discoveries await you and how to optimise your budget for an extended continental trip. Watch the sun rise over Cambodia's temples of Angkor; hang out, hit the beach and learn to cook in Vietnam's cosmopolitan, buzzing Hoi An; and kayak around the turquoise waters of Laos' Si Phan Don. All with your trusted travel companion.

Inside Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring:

  • Budget-oriented recommendations with honest reviews - eating, sleeping, sightseeing, going out, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Extensive planning tools and budget calculators
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Cultural insights provide a richer, more rewarding travel experience - covering history, art, literature, cinema, landscapes
  • Colour maps and images throughout
  • Covers Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Singapore, Vietnam
  • Useful features: First Time Southeast Asia, Big Adventures Small Budget, Off the Beaten Track, Border Crossing, Splurge, and Responsible Travel

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a shoestringis perfect for budget- and value-conscious travellers taking a big trip, and is packed with amazing sights and experiences, savvy tips and recommendations.

After only a few of the destinations in this guide? Check out the relevant Lonely Planet destination guides. These are our most comprehensive titles, designed to immerse you in the culture and help you discover the best sights and get off the beaten track.

About Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet is a leading travel media company and the world's number one travel guidebook brand, providing both inspiring and trustworthy information for every kind of traveller since 1973. Over the past four decades, we've printed over 145 million guidebooks and grown a dedicated, passionate global community of travellers. You'll also find our content online, and in mobile apps, video, 14 languages, nine international magazines, armchair and lifestyle books, ebooks, and more.

'Lonely Planet guides are, quite simply, like no other.' - New York Times

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Important Notice: The digital edition of this book may not contain all of the images found in the physical edition.

Oct 1, 2018

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Correlato a Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring

Leggi altro di Brett Atkinson
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  • Bali on the cheap by opting for an Ulu Watu homestay.

  • Know the price of local transport and bargain accordingly.

Anteprima del libro

Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring - Brett Atkinson

Southeast Asia on a Shoestring


Plan Your Trip

Welcome to Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia’s Top 20

Need to Know

First Time Southeast Asia

If You Like…

Month by Month


Big Adventures, Small Budget


Countries at a Glance

On The Road


Bandar Seri Begawan

Temburong District


Ulu Temburong National Park

Understand Brunei Darussalam

Survival Guide


Phnom Penh

Koh Dach

Tonlé Bati

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary

Siem Reap & the Temples of Angkor

Siem Reap

Temples of Angkor

Northwestern Cambodia


Kompong Thom

South Coast

Koh Kong City

Koh Kong Conservation Corridor


Southern Islands



Bokor Hill Station

Eastern Cambodia

Kompong Cham


Stung Treng

Ratanakiri Province

Mondulkiri Province

Understand Cambodia

Survival Guide







Batu Karas


Dieng Plateau




Solo (Surakarta)

Around Solo


Gunung Bromo


Ijen Plateau



Kuta & Legian

Seminyak & Kerobokan

Canggu & Around

Bukit Peninsula



Nusa Lembongan

Nusa Penida


Semarapura (Klungkung)



Tirta Gangga & Around

Gunung Batur Area

Munduk & Around


West Bali


Nusa Tenggara


Gili Islands


Komodo & Rinca


West Timor




Banda Aceh

Pulau Weh

Bukit Lawang


Danau Toba


Danau Maninjau



Central Kalimantan

East Kalimantan



Tana Toraja



Togean Islands



Pulau Bunaken


Pulau Ambon

Banda Islands

Papua (Irian Jaya)



Baliem Valley


Raja Ampat Islands

Understand Indonesia

Survival Guide



Northern Laos

Vang Vieng

Luang Prabang

Nong Khiaw

Muang Ngoi Neua


Plain of Jars

Sam Neua

Vieng Xai

Northwestern Laos


Luang Namtha

Huay Xai

Central & Southern Laos

Tham Kong Lor & Around

Tha Khaek




Wat Phu World Heritage Area

Si Phan Don

Don Khong

Don Det & Don Khon

Understand Laos

Survival Guide


Kuala Lumpur

Peninsular Malaysia – West Coast

Melaka City

Cameron Highlands



Alor Setar

Pulau Langkawi

Peninsular Malaysia – South & East Coast

Johor Bahru


Pulau Tioman



Kuala Terengganu

Kuala Besut

Pulau Perhentian

Kota Bharu

Peninsular Interior


Taman Negara

Malaysian Borneo – Sabah

Kota Kinabalu

Mt Kinabalu & Kinabalu National Park



Sungai Kinabatangan


Semporna Archipelago

Pulau Labuan

Malaysian Borneo – Sarawak



Batang Rejang


Niah National Park

Lambir Hills National Park


Gunung Mulu National Park

Kelabit Highlands

Understand Malaysia

Survival Guide



Ayeyarwady & Bago Regions

Chaung Tha Beach

Ngwe Saung Beach


Southeastern Myanmar

Mt Kyaiktiyo




Shan State

Inle Lake




Mandalay Region






Pyin Oo Lwin


Bagan & Around


Western Myanmar


Mrauk U

Mt Victoria




Understand Myanmar

Survival Guide




The Cordillera




Puerto Galera

The Visayas










Puerto Princesa


Port Barton

El Nido

Busuanga & the Calamian Islands

Understand the Philippines

Survival Guide






Festivals & Events



Drinking & Nightlife



Understand Singapore

Survival Guide



Central Thailand





Kamphaeng Phet

Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai

Golden Triangle


Mae Hong Son

Mae Sariang

Western Thailand



Mae Sot

Northeastern Thailand

Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat)

Khao Yai National Park

Phanom Rung Historical Park


Ubon Ratchathani


Nakhon Phanom

Nong Khai

Eastern Gulf Coast

Ko Samet

Chanthaburi & Trat

Ko Chang

Southern Gulf Coast

Hua Hin

Prachuap Khiri Khan


Ko Samui

Ko Pha-Ngan

Ko Tao

Surat Thani

Hat Yai

The Andaman Coast


Ko Chang

Ko Phayam

Khao Sok National Park

Hat Khao Lak & Around

Surin Islands Marine National Park

Similan Islands Marine National Park


Krabi Town


Ko Phi-Phi

Ko Lanta

Ko Tarutao Maritime National Park

Understand Thailand

Survival Guide

Food Spotter’s Guide




Eastern Timor-Leste


Loi Hunu & Mundo Perdido

Mt Matebian & Around

Tutuala & Jaco Island

Western Timor-Leste



Hatubuilico & Mt Ramelau


Understand Timor-Leste

Survival Guide



Northern Vietnam

Halong Bay

Cat Ba Island

Ba Be National Park

Mai Chau

Lao Cai

Bac Ha


Dien Bien Phu

Ha Giang Province

North Central Vietnam

Ninh Binh

Tam Coc

Cuc Phuong National Park

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Demilitarised Zone (DMZ)

South-Central Vietnam



Hoi An

Southeast Coast

Nha Trang

Mui Ne

Southwest Highlands


Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi

Tay Ninh

Mekong Delta

Vinh Long

Can Tho

Chau Doc

Ha Tien

Phu Quoc Island

Understand Vietnam

Survival Guide


Understand Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia Today


People & Culture


Survival Guide

Responsible Travel

Directory A–Z



Discount Cards


Embassies & Consulates


Internet Access

Legal Matters

LGBT Travellers


Opening Hours




Public Holidays

Safe Travel



Tourist Information

Travellers with Disabilities


Women Travellers



Getting There & Away

Getting Around



Behind the Scenes

Our Writers

Welcome to Southeast Asia

Wrapped in rainforests, edged by golden sands, crowned by volcanoes, studded with ruins of lost civilisations: this is Southeast Asia as you’ve always imagined it.

Elemental Forces

The soul of Southeast Asia has been forged by the elements. Mighty volcanoes have thrust the land up, and raging rivers have carved it down. Coral reefs have formed islands, and sea spray has sculpted them into surreal karst outcrops. Millennia of monsoon rain have created cultures defined by the seasons, and by the annual flooding of rivers, which double as super-highways through impenetrable jungles. In this region of rivers, oceans and islands, you’re as likely to travel by boat as by road, following trade routes that were old when the great powers of Europe were young.

Epicurean Encounters

Southeast Asia is both a melting pot and a cooking pot, where the flavours of some of the world’s greatest cuisines melt into one another, throwing up ever more mesmerising combinations. The region’s spices were once valued more highly than gold, and combined with one notable import – the South American chilli – they’ve created a cooking palette that inflames the senses and leaves the taste buds begging for more. This is a region where humble hawker stalls come with Michelin stars, and where a meal at a roadside canteen or night market can be as memorable as a five-star, dim sum banquet.

Spiritual Spaces

Spirituality swirls around Southeast Asia like the smoke from incense swirls around its myriad temples. At dawn in Buddhist nations, monks flood the streets to gather alms. In Muslim countries, the call to prayer rises in a chorus above rooftops. In Taoist temples, devotees fill the morning air with thick incense smoke, while tribal people in remote villages mark the new day’s arrival with animist rituals. Every aspect of life here has a spiritual dimension, from the food people eat to the religious geometry dictating the layout of centuries-old mosques and temples.

Urban Adventures

Southeast Asia’s mighty megacities are stepping boldly towards the future with one foot planted firmly in the past. Skyscrapers rise above streets like crystal gardens, while at street level, traders hustle, food-hawkers hawk, and temples bustle with devotees toting their offerings. For many travellers, the first taste of the region is the urban chaos of Bangkok, or the organised modernity of Singapore, but each of Southeast Asia’s capitals has its own unique character, defined by religion, culture, geography and, in most cases, centuries of colonialism and feuding dynasties. Learning the rhythms of each is part of the magic.

Ta Prohm, Cambodia | BEBOY/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Why I Love Southeast Asia

By Joe Bindloss, Writer

Part of being a traveller is working out which places get your juices flowing. I first encountered Southeast Asia on a round-the-world trip in the early 1990s, and something clicked. It might’ve been the waft of incense, the gleam of gold leaf, lotus blossoms floating in a temple pool, or the roots of jungle trees thrusting through Angkor Wat’s ruins. I’ve never stopped being amazed at how every country in Southeast Asia offers its own unique version of the East, but all drawn from the same narrative of faith, lost empires and the ebb and flow of the monsoon rains.

For more, see our writers

Southeast Asia’s Top 20

Temples of Angkor (Cambodia)

All your Indiana Jones fantasies will come alive at Angkor, where the walls of ancient temples are torn apart by the roots of towering jungle trees, and delicate bas reliefs of demons and angels peek out between the vines. From the geometric perfection of Angkor Wat, to the more-jungle-than-temple ruins of Ta Prohm and the gigantic stone faces of Avalokiteshvara that grace the Bayon, Angkor feels even greater than the sum of its parts. Kick back in the local traveller hub of Siem Reap and enjoy days of glorious exploring.

Bas relief in Angkor Thom | ZZVET/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Hoi An (Vietnam)

Vietnam’s most graceful outpost, beautiful Hoi An was once a busy port, and the streets of the old town are bejewelled with traditional houses and family chapels, built by its seafaring citizens. Today, these glorious structures have found new life as restaurants, bars, cafes, boutiques, tailors’ shops and cooking schools. When you’re done with history, rent a bicycle or motorcycle and drift along the coast to gorgeous beaches, or take a boat trip offshore to the idyllic Cham Islands. Consider it a sampling platter of Southeast Asia, in one handy location.


Bangkok (Thailand)

This superstar city has it all, and in super-sized proportions: fabulous food and shopping, simple spirituality, hedonistic nightlife, and, at the base of it all, a profound sense of fun and irreverence. Bangkok may be a pressure cooker for new arrivals, but for travellers coming back from remote dusty corners of Southeast Asia, this is a comforting dose of civilisation. The city has monuments and monasteries to spare, but amid the sightseeing, build in time for regular snacking, swapping traveller tales over beers and calming boat rides down the Chao Phraya river.

Th Yaowarat | EARTH9566/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Bali (Indonesia)

Although this Hindu island in the heart of the Indonesian archipelago is firmly on the traveller radar, its unique culture and epic surf breaks make it an essential stop on the Asia circuit. There’s more to Bali than Kuta Beach, but most visitors swing by Kuta for at least a day or two to catch a wave and party before retreating to more peaceful parts of the island. With Kuta out of your system, you can enjoy Ubud’s rich cultural heritage, sleepy Pemuteran’s laid-back vibe and Jimbaran’s seafood feasts.


Komodo & Flores (Indonesia)

Here there be dragons – literally, in the case of Komodo, one of the last refuges of the prehistoric-looking Komodo dragon. Encountering these primordial predators in their natural habitat is just part of the appeal of this chilled-out corner of the Indonesian archipelago. Add in lazy days on deserted-island beaches, trips to some of Indonesia’s best dive sites, and the upbeat traveller buzz in Labuanbajo on neighbouring Flores, and it’s easy to see the attraction. But word is getting out, so see Komodo and Flores now before runaway development alters their laid-back charm.


Bagan (Myanmar)

Myanmar’s proud retort to the temples of Angkor, the plains of Bagan are dotted with the remains of some 4000 Buddhist temples, many lovingly restored, but others still in ruins from the ravages of Kublai Khan’s Mongol hordes. Explore the temples at your leisure on foot or by bicycle or horse-cart, avoiding the tour-bus crowds. The definitive view of Bagan is at dawn or sunset from Pyathada Paya (pictured below) or one of the other terraced pagodas, but consider looking down from above on a hot-air-balloon trip across the plain.


Halong Bay (Vietnam)

What’s this? A pirate cove in the South China Sea? Nope, it’s just Halong Bay, where some 3000 limestone outcrops thrust out of the shimmering Gulf of Tonkin waters. Protected as a Unesco World Heritage Site, this atmospheric stretch of coastline is one of Vietnam’s top drawcards, so take your pick from overnight tours by junk or guided kayak trips to wave-carved grottoes and hidden lagoons. If after all this you’re still hungry for more karst action, move on to less touristy Lan Ha Bay, tumbling off the shore of Cat Ba island.


Penang (Malaysia)

The mists of time swirl around George Town on the island of Penang, like the incense smoke wafting around its Taoist temples and clanhouses. This seafaring city was forged by British colonists and Chinese and Indian migrant workers, and the melting pot still stirs today, with Chinese, Malay and Indian culture all playing their part in the island’s attitude and cuisine. Added to the Unesco World Heritage list in 2008, Penang has taken steps to preserve its historic architecture, and today its atmospheric shophouses hide museums, boutique hotels and chic cafes.

Street food sellers in Penang | GWOEII/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Chiang Mai (Thailand)

Thailand’s capital is the perfect antidote to the bustling modernity of Bangkok. Bound by a moat and crumbling city walls, the calm streets of Chiang Mai’s Old City are filled with teak temples in the distinctive northern Thai style. It’s a place to wander aimlessly, drifting from ancient wat to ancient wat, pausing for fresh fruit juices and some of Asia’s finest street food. Many make a week of it, day-tripping to waterfalls and hill-tribe villages, indulging in Thai massages and learning to cook curries in Chiang Mai’s famous cooking schools.


Palawan (Philippines)

Once a backwater, Palawan has sky-rocketed in popularity as it gets added to travel-magazine lists of the world’s best island escapes. The crown jewel is the Bacuit Archipelago near El Nido, a surreal seascape of limestone outcrops, dotted with hidden beaches and coral reefs offering some of the Philippines’ most exciting diving. More sublime sand awaits further south at Port Barton and Sabang. The real treasure for divers lies to the north at Coron Bay, where the wrecks of dozens of Japanese warships lie in the murky gloom.


Luang Prabang (Laos)

Hemmed in by the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, the former royal capital of Luang Prabang is one of Southeast Asia’s great temple cities, where the streets are crowded with Buddhist monks on the daily call to alms. Despite its growing popularity, Luang Prabang hasn’t strayed far from its backpacker roots, so kick back for days or weeks, exploring temples, learning Lao cookery, pedalling around backstreets visiting ancient temples and unwinding even further with a massage at one of the city’s affordable spas.


Si Phan Don (Laos)

The Mekong River sheds its characteristic muddy hue for a more tropical turquoise blue as it swirls around Laos’ enigmatic ‘Four Thousand Islands’, collectively known as Si Phan Don. This is Laos at its most laid-back, where the busiest way to spend a day is cycling from islet to islet, riding down the river on an inner tube, or kayaking in search of rare Irrawaddy dolphins. A sleepy traveller vibe prevails, so kick off your shoes, drop into a hammock and let the swoosh of the river lull you into a peaceful slumber.


Malaysian Borneo

The other Malaysia, the states of Sabah and Sarawak share the island of Borneo with Brunei and Indonesia’s Kalimantan. Here, on cruises along rainforest-cloaked rivers, you can encounter some of Southeast Asia’s wildest inhabitants: chattering gibbons, ponderous orangutans and the myriad indigenous cultures who share their jungle home. But it’s not all rivers and rainforest. There are the cosmopolitan cities of Kuching (Sarawak) and Kota Kinabalu (Sabah), and dive boats explore some of Southeast Asia’s best stocked coral reefs.


Singapore Food

Little bigger than a cooking pot itself, the city-state of Singapore is one of Asia’s great culinary melting pots – a great coming together of the best cooking know-how from China, India and the Malay peninsula. There’s no shortage of things to do and see in this metropolis, from the futuristic Gardens by the Bay to the eccentric recreation of Taoist heaven and hell at Haw Par Villa, but somehow it’s the meals that’ll stay with you, whether you feast at the city’s banquet restaurants or chow down in the abundant hawker courts.


Ataúro Island (Timor-Leste)

Often (unfairly) excluded on a typical Southeast Asian itinerary, Timor-Leste may be a young nation, but it offers old-school adventure for those bold enough to venture here. The story of the nation’s struggle for independence is powerfully told in the capital, Dili, but most are drawn here by the untouched coral reefs off the north coast, and to hidden villages and misty mountains in the densely forested interior. Cap off your trip with a night on sleepy Ataúro Island to get a feel for what Southeast Asia was like in the 1960s.


Ifugao Rice Terraces (Philippines)

Hand-hewn by generations of Ifugao tribal people in the rugged Cordillera mountains, the Ifugao rice terraces are celebrated as one of the wonders of the Asian world. The plunging valleys were first cut into terraces some 2000 years ago, and trekking these emerald staircases – and sleeping among them in idyllic Batad – feels like skipping back centuries to the days before the Philippines caught the attention of colonial powers. Nearby, you can detour to the trekking hub of Bontoc, or cross the hills to Sagada, where hanging coffins spill eerily down the cliff-sides.


Gili Islands (Indonesia)

One of Indonesia’s great pleasures is hopping on a fast boat from busy Bali and arriving at the calm, irresistible Gili Islands. This is the Indonesia people dream of – sugar-white sand, turquoise waters, swishing palm fronds and relaxing beach hang-outs entreating you to extend your stay. Spend your days snorkelling and diving with sharks, rays and turtles on the fringing reefs, then after dark savour the dining and nightlife on Gili Trawangan, or just swing in a hammock and enjoy the sea breezes on Gili Air and Gili Meno.


Yangon (Myanmar)

A delightfully faded vision of the colonial Far East, executed in a palette of colours washed out to pastels by centuries of monsoon rains: Yangon, formerly Rangoon, is changing rapidly as the outside world rushes in after decades of isolation, but in other ways it has hardly changed at all. The gilded spire of the Shwedagon Paya (pictured) still rises above the city like a beacon, surrounded by an ever-swirling tide of Buddhist pilgrims, and monks flood the streets at dawn to gather alms as they have since time immemorial.


Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (Vietnam)

With jagged hills draped in a shroud of rainforest and mountain rivers charging through plunging ravines, Phong Nha-Ke Bang is one of Vietnam’s most spectacular national parks. You can crawl underground through the reserve’s twisting and turning cave systems. The cathedral-like chambers of Hang Son Doong (pictured), are only open to expensive caving tours, but more accessible are the ziplining and kayaking thrills of Hang Toi (Dark Cave), and the ethereal beauty of aptly named Paradise Cave.


Phnom Penh (Cambodia)

The Cambodian capital is chaotic but charming, physically carrying the scars of the past, but looking towards a brighter future. The Tonlé Sap and Mekong River swirl together in the middle of Phnom Penh, hinting at onward travel by river boat to Angkor Wat, but before you go, wander the backstreets, with their old-fashioned shophouses and colonial villas. Also make time for the sobering experience of the Choeung Ek killing fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (pictured) – an essential step towards understanding modern Cambodia.


Need to Know

For more information, see Survival Guide


Brunei dollar (B$)

Cambodia riel (r)

Indonesia rupiah (Rp)

Laos kip (K)

Malaysia ringgit (RM)

Myanmar kyat (K)

Philippines peso (P)

Singapore dollar (S$)

Thailand baht (B)

Timor-Leste US dollar (US$), centavo (cv)

Vietnam dong (d)


Brunei Bahasa Malaysia

Cambodia Khmer

Indonesia Bahasa Indonesia

Laos Lao

Malaysia Bahasa Malaysia

Myanmar Burmese

Philippines Tagalog

Singapore English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil

Thailand Thai

Timor-Leste Portuguese, Tetun

Vietnam Vietnamese

Mobile Phones

All nations in the region have their own mobile phone companies and most have partnership deals with foreign operators, so roaming on your home phone package is easy, though expensive. It’s usually cheaper to buy a local SIM.

When to Go

High Season (Jun–Aug & Dec–Feb)

A Dry, cool winter months.

A Chilly in the mountains.

A Travel is difficult during Tet in Vietnam.

A Summer rains across most of the region.

Shoulder Season (Mar & Nov)

A Hot, dry season begins in March.

A November sees lower prices, before the rush.

Low Season (Apr–May, Sep–Oct)

A Travel difficult during April’s new year festivals in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

A Wet season (Sep–Oct); flooding, typhoons, transport cancellations.

A Dry season begins in Indonesia (Apr–May).

Useful Websites

Lonely Planet ( Destination information, hotel bookings, traveller forum and more.

Travelfish ( Popular travel site specialising in Southeast Asia.

Agoda ( Regional hotel booking website.

Bangkok Post ( In-depth analysis of current events in Southeast Asia.

Important Numbers

Each country in the region has its own emergency numbers. There is normally a single nationwide number for the police; ambulance services are often provided by individual hospitals and fire services may just have a local number.

Exchange Rates

Exchange rates fluctuate around the region, and political crises can send rates plummeting. The US dollar is the most useful foreign currency to carry; it’s easy to exchange, and in many areas, shops and hotels will accept US bills in place of the local currency, though change may be given in local notes.


GMT/UTC plus 6½ hours Myanmar

GMT/UTC plus seven hours Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, parts of Indonesia (Java, Sumatra, and west and central Kalimantan)

GMT/UTC plus eight hours Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, parts of Indonesia (Bali, Nusa Tenggara, south and east Kalimantan and Sulawesi)

GMT/UTC plus nine hours Timor-Leste, parts of Indonesia (Irian Jaya and Maluku)

Daily Costs

Budget: Less than US$50

A Cheap guesthouse: US$10–20

A Night-market meal: US$1–5

A Local transport: US$1–5

A Bottled beer: US$1–5

Midrange: US$50–100

A Midrange hotel room: US$20–75

A Restaurant meal: US$6–10

A Motorcycle hire: US$6–10

Top End: More than US$100

A Boutique hotel or beach resort: US$100+

A Dive trip: US$50–100

A Hiring a car and driver: US$25–50

Opening Hours

Opening hours vary from country to country; the following is an overview.

Banks & Government Offices Open Monday to Friday, from around 9am to about 5pm (most close for an hour for lunch).

Restaurants Open early morning to late at night; only expensive restaurants have separate lunch and dinner opening times.

Bar & Nightclubs Closing times depend on local licensing laws, but tend to be earlier than in Western countries.

Shops These often double as the proprietor’s home, so they open early and stay open late into the night, seven days a week.

Arriving in Southeast Asia

Changi International Airport (Singapore) Rail (45 minutes), bus (one hour) and taxis (one hour) go to the centre.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) Take the KLIA Ekspres rail (30 minutes) to the centre.

Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (Jakarta, Indonesia) Taxis and buses (one hour) run to the centre.

Suvarnabhumi International Airport (Bangkok, Thailand) Taxis (one hour), bus (one hour) and rail (30 minutes) run to the centre.

Getting Around

Transport around Southeast Asia is frequent and inexpensive but not always fast. Private operators supplement government-run airlines, rail services and bus networks, often offering more comfort for a higher fare.

Air Budget airlines and national carriers offer flights all over the region, with competition keeping fares low.

Bus Buses go everywhere, at almost any time of day or night; fares depend on the level of comfort, but are rarely expensive.

Boat Ferries of all shapes and sizes connect islands and towns along the region’s major rivers and seaboards.

Car & Motorcycle Useful for local exploring, but road conditions deter many from self-driving for longer trips.

Train Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia have small but functional rail networks.

For much more on getting around see Transport

First Time Southeast Asia

For more information, see Survival Guide


A Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months past your arrival date.

A Check if you need any visas before arrival.

A Organise travel insurance and an international driving permit.

A Visit a doctor to get any recommended vaccinations.

A Inform your bank and credit-card provider of your travel plans.

A Check your mobile phone is set up for international roaming.

What to Pack

A A week’s worth of lightweight clothes

A Rain gear (jacket, breathable poncho, dry pack for electronics)

A Comfortable sandals and walking shoes

A Earplugs

A Medicine/first-aid kit

A USB drive for storing digital copies of documents and photos

A GSM mobile phone

A Refillable water bottle

A Sunscreen and deodorant

Top Tips for Your Trip

A Learn the scams : phony guides, dodgy transport, touts.

A Roads are crazy; drive defensively and cross the road even more carefully.

A Most supplies (mosquito repellent, umbrella) can be bought locally.

A Take your cue from the locals when it comes to appropriate dress.

A Take digital pictures of important documents and cards in case of theft or loss.

A Tell your bank where you are travelling, and keep their phone number handy in case they block your card.

A Know your passwords! Many websites run security measures when accessed from a new location.

A Keep your passport and other valuables in a hidden waist pouch or similar beneath your clothing.

A Watch your bags while out and about; grab and run is a common form of theft.

A Pay for accommodation first thing in the morning, or the night before if leaving early.

What to Wear

In general, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes are the most comfortable option. Swimwear is pretty much essential, but only appropriate for the beach. Shorts are ideal for the climate, but may be frowned on in rural areas; loose-fitting long cotton trousers work everywhere.

Bring comfortable thongs (flip-flops) or sandals – they’re easy to slip on and kick off when entering homes, hostels and religious buildings – along with comfortable walking shoes (sneakers are generally fine) for hikes and motorcycle rides.

Wear clothes that cover down to your elbows and knees for visits to temples, mosques and rural villages. A sarong can be purchased locally and is handy for quick cover-ups. Bring a jacket or fleece for cool temperatures in the mountains and on heavily air-conditioned buses.


Outside of shops with marked prices, haggling is the norm in most Southeast Asian countries. Remember that it is an art, not a battle of wills, and the trick is to find a price that makes everyone happy. Avoid letting anger or frustration enter into the bargaining process. Typically, the vendor starts high, the buyer starts low, and eventually you’ll reach a price that adds up for both parties.


Hotels Not expected, but a small tip for carrying bags is appreciated.

Restaurants Not essential but a tip of around 10% will help top up low wages for servers.

Chartered Transport Prices are usually agreed through haggling, but a tip for good service will always be appreciated.

Guides If you hire guides, tip a little extra at the end for good service; 10% is a good start.


Rice is the foundation of Southeast Asian cooking, whether fragrant or sticky, molded into noodles or steamed into wraps for spring rolls. Add onto this base rich herbs and spices – lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal and the like – and exotic cooking techniques such as steaming in banana, pandanus and bamboo leaves, and you have the makings of half a dozen of the world’s greatest cuisines, all waiting to be sampled as you travel around the region.

Hawkers in Hoi An, Vietnam | JUSTEDUB/SHUTTERSTOCK ©


A Modesty Though fashions are changing in urban centres, modesty is still important in traditional areas, especially in Muslim-dominated countries. Avoid baring too much skin in general – avoid topless sunbathing and cover up when visiting religious buildings.

A Taboos Politics and religion are often sensitive topics. Always treat both with deference and avoid being critical. Many Southeast Asian cultures are superstitious; it is wise to learn about these beliefs and act accordingly. Muslims don’t drink alcohol or eat pork. Women shouldn’t touch Buddhist monks or their belongings.

A Save Face Southeast Asians, especially in Buddhist cultures, place a high value on harmonious social interactions. Don’t get visibly angry, raise your voice or get into an argument – it will cause you and the other person embarrassment. When in doubt, smile.

A Shoes Take them off when entering private homes, religious buildings and certain businesses. If there’s a pile of shoes at the door, be sure to follow suit.


Each country has its own currency. Cash is king, but ATMs are widespread and credit cards are increasingly accepted in cities in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

For more information see here and each country’s Directory A-Z section.

If You Like…

Fabulous Food

Bangkok (Thailand) Food, glorious food! Anytime is dinner time in this non-stop grazing city.

Hanoi (Vietnam) Be an urban forager among Hanoi’s street-food stalls.

Luang Prabang (Laos) Cafes and bakeries with a French flair preserve a delicious colonial connection.

Chiang Mai (Thailand) Don’t just feast, learn to cook every delicious mouthful in Thailand’s northern capital.

Singapore Five-star feasting at one end of the spectrum; bargain, Michelin-starred hawker food at the other.

Penang (Malaysia) This magical Malay melting pot offers an edible journey through India, China and the Malay Straits.

Phnom Penh (Cambodia) Marketplace feasts and a string of training restaurants where eating fab food helps Cambodia’s most disadvantaged.

Bali (Indonesia) Enjoy some of Asia’s most affordable and inventive cuisine at Kerobokan or Seminyak, or out on the Jimbaran sands.

Temples, Tombs & Towers

Temples of Angkor (Cambodia) The temple complex by which all others are judged, built by the Khmer god-kings in an incredible array of styles.

Bagan (Myanmar) The warrior hordes of Kublai Khan hardly made a dent in the architectural heritage of this stupa-studded plain.

Borobudur (Indonesia) A stunning Buddhist vision of heaven, ringed by mist and mountains.

Wat Phra Kaew (Thailand) Bangkok’s dazzling royal temple is a mosaic-covered marvel, home to the revered Emerald Buddha.

Shwedagon Paya (Myanmar) A constant tide of humanity floats around this hilltop stupa that rises like a golden torch above Yangon.

Wat Xieng Thong (Laos) The jewel in the crown of temple-studded Luang Prabang, with its eaves sweeping majestically to the ground.

Hue (Vietnam) Emperors left their imperial mark here, from palaces and pagodas to the grand tombs of Tu Duc and Minh Mang.

George Town (Malaysia) The old streets of colonial George Town are studded with jewel-box Taoist temples and Hokkien clanhouses.

Statue in Wat Phra Kaew, Thailand | VUTHIWAT A/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Beautiful Beaches

Phu Quoc Island (Vietnam) Vietnam’s poster island, ringed by picture-perfect white crescents and sandy bays sheltered by rocky headlands.

Railay (Thailand) Rock-climbers gravitate to the karst cliffs, but the sands between the outcrops are snippets of paradise.

Bohol (Philippines) Natural and cultural wonders onshore, and a haven for sand and scuba addicts.

Pulau Tioman (Malaysia) Hollywood’s stand-in for Bali Ha’i is castaway perfection, with added dive appeal.

Ko Pha-Ngan (Thailand) This backpacker legend rages during Full Moon parties, but its sun-kissed coves doze in between.

Lombok (Indonesia) The other Kuta, with a string of perfect sands, and the iconic Gili Islands just offshore.

Koh Rong (Cambodia) Good times rule at Cambodia’s new favourite party islands, but you’ll still find serene stretches of sand.

Mui Ne (Vietnam) Squeaky sands, towering dunes and kitesurfing galore.

Boat trip in Lombok, Indonesia | GUILLEM LOPEZ BORRAS/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Spectacular Treks

Gunung Bromo (Indonesia) A night-time start is essential to reach this volcanic moonscape summit in time for sunrise views.

Mt Kinabalu (Malaysia) Borneo’s highest mountain is conquered via a two-day march into the sky.

Sapa (Vietnam) Dirt paths wind through verdant rice terraces tended by ethnic minorities in this toothy mountainous region.

Batad (Philippines) Ancient hand-hewn rice terraces are carved into jagged mountains.

Khao Yai National Park (Thailand) Close to Bangkok but still jungle wild; home to elephants, monkeys and myriad bird species.

Kalaw (Myanmar) Off-beat treks through forested hills and minority villages fringing lovely Inle Lake.

Nam Ha NPA (Laos) Eco-oriented treks through an old-growth forest and high-altitude hill-tribe villages.

Mondulkiri (Cambodia) Experience ‘walking with the herd’ at the Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia’s wild east.


Bangkok (Thailand) Bangkok after hours is fast-paced, frenetic and almost out of control; you’ll need stamina to make it through until morning!

Phnom Penh (Cambodia) Crawl the buzzing bar strips, then take your pick from party clubs or the genteel Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

Ko Pha-Ngan (Thailand) Home of the very first Full Moon parties in Southeast Asia and the ultimate beach-bum island.

Nha Trang (Vietnam) Ever since the GI days, Nha Trang has been top spot on the map for beachside R&R.

Boracay (Philippines) The party spills onto the sand in this pocket-sized island paradise.

Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) Drink beneath the bright lights of towering skyscrapers, or up on the rooftop for giddying views over downtown.

Bali (Indonesia) Quaff a sundowner on the sand from Kuta north to Canggu, then head out to heaving all-night clubs.

Singapore Sky-high drinks served at sky-high prices, but oh, what views.

Markets & Shopping

Bangkok (Thailand) From the 8000 stalls at Chatuchak Weekend Market to streets that are more market than pavement.

Singapore Shopping is a national pastime, with everything from gleaming modern tech malls to pungent wet and dry markets.

Chiang Mai (Thailand) Weekend ‘Walking Streets’ transform Thailand’s northern capital into an open-air food and crafts extravaganza.

Bogyoke Aung San Market (Myanmar) Yangon’s British-era covered market sells everything from gilded marionettes to Burmese sapphires and rubies.

Can Tho (Vietnam) Get up early and experience the Mekong Delta’s famous floating markets.

Jonker Walk Night Market (Malaysia) Melaka’s weekly night market attracts legions of trinket sellers, food hawkers and fortune tellers.

Russian Market (Cambodia) This energetic market is Phnom Penh’s top shopping spot: if it’s available in Cambodia, it will be somewhere here.

Cultural Encounters

Ubud (Indonesia) Ubud is the spiritual home of Balinese dance, one of Asia’s most vivid and colourful dance forms.

George Town (Malaysia) Young artists are upgrading the blank canvas of the old town with bright and brilliant street art.

Maubisse (Timor-Leste) Expect many surprises on a visit to an uma lulik (traditional sacred house) in the highlands around Maubisse.

Luang Prabang (Laos) Visit the Living Land farm to learn how to plant and grow sticky rice, the ubiquitous national dish.

Singapore Southeast Asia’s most modern metropolis displays the best of modern Southeast Asian art at the celebrated National Gallery Singapore.

Chiang Mai (Thailand) Join a meditation retreat or ‘monk chat’ at a temple, or learn moo·ay tai (Thai boxing) from a local master.

Siem Reap (Cambodia) Roll up, roll up – catch a performance of Phare the Cambodia Circus, to see Asia’s take on big-top showmanship.

Sulawesi (Indonesia) In Tana Toraja the dead live as house guests in one of Asia’s most extraordinary funeral ceremonies.

Colonial-Era Architecture

Hanoi (Vietnam) The grand old dame of French Indochina is blessed with imposing civic buildings and leafy garden villas.

Yangon (Myanmar) Washed by centuries of monsoon rains, the former Rangoon has endless streets of British-era shophouses and civic buildings.

Luang Prabang (Laos) It may have been a mere Mekong outpost, but the French loved this town, leaving landmark buildings as their legacy.

George Town (Malaysia) This ethnic entrepôt has experienced a renaissance, with dilapidated mansions reborn as cafes, hotels and galleries.

Hoi An (Vietnam) The Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and French all imprinted their own design sensibilities in this stunning old port town.

Vigan (Philippines) A perfectly preserved Spanish colonial jewel under the shadow of a towering volcano.

Battambang (Cambodia) Ghosts of Indochine swirl through the sleepy streets lining the banks of the Sangker River.

Month by Month


Buddhist New Year/Water Festival, April

Deepavali, November

Rainforest World Music, July

Ork Phansaa, October

Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods, October


Peak tourist season, cool and dry weather in mainland Southeast Asia and the Philippines. The east coast of the Malay peninsula (Samui Archipelago, Pulau Perhentian) and Indonesia are wet thanks to the northeast monsoon; low season in Bali.

z Ati-Atihan

The mother of all Filipino fiestas, Ati-Atihan celebrates Santo Niño (Infant Jesus) with colourful, Mardi Gras–like indigenous costumes and displays in Kalibo, on the island of Panay.

z Bun Pha Wet

This Lao-Buddhist festival commemorates the story of the Buddha-to-be. It’s considered an auspicious time to enter the monastery. Festivities are held in villages throughout Laos on varying dates.

z Myanmar’s Independence Day

The end of colonial rule in Burma is celebrated as a national holiday on 4 January.

z Sultan of Brunei’s Birthday

Colourful official ceremonies are held on 15 January to mark the birthday of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

z Thaipusam

Self-mortification, including the carrying of portable altars mounted on spikes, marks the Tamil festival of Thaipusam, held in the lunar month of Thai in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Sometimes falls in February.


Peak season continues in mainland Southeast Asia and beaches are packed. The east coast of the Malay peninsula starts to dry off as the rains move further east; still raining in Bali.

z Chinese New Year

This lunar festival (sometimes occurring in January) is celebrated in Chinese-dominated towns. In Penang, it’s a family affair and businesses close for one to two weeks. In Bangkok, Singapore, Phnom Penh and Kuching, there are dragon-dancing parades, food festivities and deafening fireworks.

z Tet

Vietnam’s lunar New Year (sometimes occurring in late January) is the country’s biggest holiday, signalling the first day of spring. It involves family reunions, ancestor worship, gift exchanges, fireworks and lots of all-night luck-inducing racket. Travel is difficult; businesses close.


Mainland Southeast Asia is hot and dry; the beaches start to empty out. The winds kick up, ushering in kitesurfing season. In Bali, the northwest monsoon rains are subsiding to afternoon showers.

z Easter Week

This Christian holiday (sometimes in April) is observed in the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Melaka and Timor-Leste. Holy Week (Semana Santa) in the Philippines starts on the Wednesday before Easter Sunday. Expect lots of Spanish-influenced rituals such as fasting, penance and church-going.

z Hindu New Year (Nyepi)

Bali’s ‘Day of Silence’ is marked by fasting and meditation; businesses and beach access close. The next day is the Balinese New Year’s Day, welcomed with night-time racket. Held 6 March 2019.

z Makha Bucha

One of three Buddhist holy days, Makha Bucha falls on the full moon of the third lunar month (usually in March, but sometimes in February) and commemorates Buddha preaching to 1250 enlightened monks. Celebrated at temples across Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.


The hottest time of year in mainland Southeast Asia makes inland sightseeing a chore. Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand enjoy riotous traditional new year celebrations – make transport reserv-ations in advance. Shoulder season in Bali.

z Buddhist New Year (Water Festival)

In mid-April, Buddhist countries celebrate their lunar new year with symbolic water-throwing and religious observances. Celebrated with particular aplomb in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and in larger cities in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Celebrating Buddhist New Year in Thailand | JUNJIRA KONSANG/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

z Vietnamese Liberation Day

The day US troops withdrew from Saigon (30 April) as North Vietnamese forces entered the city. Also called Reunification Day (and less complimentary names by overseas Vietnamese).


Still hot in mainland Southeast Asia but the end is in sight. May sees preparations for the upcoming rains and the start of rice-planting season. Northern Vietnam has spring-like weather and Bali is not yet crowded.

z Independence Day (Timor-Leste)

One of the planet’s youngest nations, Timor-Leste celebrates Independence Day (20 May) with cultural events and sporting competitions.

z Ramadan

The Muslim fasting month is observed in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and parts of southern Thailand in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (May to early June in 2019). Muslims abstain from food, drink, cigarettes and sex between sunrise and sunset. Idul Fitri marks the end of Ramadan.

z Rocket Festival

Villagers fire off bamboo rockets (bang fai) to provoke rainfall for a bountiful rice harvest. Mainly celebrated in northeast Thailand and Laos; dates vary from village to village.

z Royal Ploughing Ceremonies

In Thailand and Cambodia, this royal ceremony employs astrology and ancient Brahman rituals to kick off rice-planting season, blending Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

z Visakha Bucha

This Buddhist holy day, the 15th day of the waxing moon in the sixth lunar month, commemorates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinibbana (death). Ceremonies, including the lighting of hundreds of candles, are held at temples throughout Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.


The southwest monsoon brings rain, usually an afternoon downpour, to most of mainland Southeast Asia and most of the Philippines. Summer holidays in Europe and China bring another tourist high season, especially in Bali.

z Gawai Dayak

The end of the rice-harvest season is celebrated on the first two days of June in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo). City-dwelling Dayaks return to their longhouses to socialise, feast and down shots of tuak (rice wine).

z Hue Festival (Biennial)

Vietnam’s biggest cultural event is held every two years (2020, 2022 etc) in the one-time royal capital. Art, theatre, music, circus and dance performances are held inside Hue’s Citadel.


Mainland Southeast Asia prepares for Buddhist Lent, a period of meditation and contemplation coinciding with the rainy season (southwest monsoon). Despite the drizzle, this is an ideal time for rural sightseeing as rice planting begins. Thailand’s Samui archipelago often stays dry while other islands soak.

z Asanha Bucha

The full moon of the eighth lunar month commemorates Buddha’s first sermon, founding the Buddhist religion. Followers flock to temples to light candles, offer flowers and pray for good fortune. Celebrated at temples across Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

z HM the King’s Birthday

This Thai holiday (28 July) hosts parades and merit-making events in honour of the king.

z Khao Phansaa

With the onset of the rainy season, Buddhist monks retreat into monasteries, and young men and boys are ordained as novices. Worshippers offer candles and donations at temples, particularly in Thailand and Laos, and Ubon Ratchathani (Thailand) celebrates with a grand parade.

3 Rainforest World Music

Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) celebrates tribal music from around the world during this three-day music festival. Has also taken place in June and August.


The holiday season in Europe and China’s summer holiday ensure crowds across the region. Expect afternoon showers in most of mainland Southeast Asia, with a few all-day soakers. However, weather in Indonesia (especially Bali) is just right.

z HM the Queen’s Birthday

Thailand celebrates its queen’s birthday (and Mother’s Day) on 12 August.

z Independence Day (Indonesia)

The country celebrates liberation from the Dutch on 17 August with large parades in Jakarta.

National Independence Day, Solo, Indonesia. | PUTHUT PUJI PRASTOMO/SHUTTERSTOCK ©


The rains ratchet up a gear in mainland Southeast Asia – flooding and boat cancellations are common. Occasional typhoons sweep in across Vietnam and the Philippines, sometimes wreaking havoc. Shoulder season in Bali.

z Islamic New Year

This lunar new year (known as Awal Muharram) in Indonesia and Malaysia is marked by fasting, self-reflection and commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali. Held on 11 September 2018 and 1 September 2019.

z Pchum Ben

In Cambodia, respects are paid to the dead through temple offerings. Many Khmers return to their home villages and try to visit seven temples in seven days. Most commonly held in September.


Mainland Southeast Asia prepares for the end of the rainy season and the end of Buddhist Lent. The northeast monsoon (affecting the east coast of the Malay peninsula and Indonesia) begins. Bali has occasional showers.

z Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods

In Thailand, this Taoist event is called the Vegetarian Festival, and is marked by abstinence from meat and other purification rituals. The most extreme is Phuket’s parade of entranced and pierced worshippers. Variations occur in Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar. Sometimes held in September.

z Ork Phansaa

The end of the Buddhist Lent occurs three lunar months after Khao Phansaa. Merit-makers present new robes to the monks. Mysterious ‘naga fireballs’ are said to rise from the Mekong River, and riverside communities in Thailand and Laos celebrate with traditional boat races, particularly around Nong Khai.


The start of the month is shoulder season in mainland Southeast Asia, with cool, dry days and lush greenery all around. Northern altitudes see chilly night-time temperatures. The east coast of the Malay peninsula and Indonesia are in the midst of the rainy season.

z Bon Om Tuk

This Cambodian festival (sometimes held in October) celebrates Jayavarman VII’s victory over the Chams in 1177 and the reversal of the Tonlé Sap river. Boat races stir local patriotism and crowds gather in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

z Bun Pha That Luang

Laos pays tribute to its iconic stupa in Vientiane with a week-long festival coinciding with the full moon.

z Deepavali

Hindus across the region celebrate the festival of lights to mark the triumph of good over evil. Tiny oil lamps are ceremoniously lit in Malaysia, Thailand and Bali, and Singapore’s Little India hosts public festivities. Sometimes occurs in October.

z Loi Krathong

During November’s full moon, Thais launch illuminated banana-leaf boats in honour of the river goddess. In Chiang Mai, for the linked festival of Yi Peng, floating paper lanterns are released into the sky. A similar tradition is practised in Myanmar during the fire-balloon competitions in Taunggyi.

z Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday

The birthday of Islam’s holy prophet is celebrated in the third month of the lunar-based Islamic calendar (21 November 2018 and 10 Nov-ember 2019) with religious prayers and processions.


This is mainland Southeast Asia’s busiest tourism season. The weather is fine; rain is tapering off on the Samui archipelago but still falling in Bali.

z Christmas

Christmas is particularly important for Catholic communities in the Philippines, Timor-Leste, Indonesia and Vietnam. It’s a serious celebration, with important religious services and ceremonies.

z Lao National Day

On 2 December Laos celebrates the 1975 victory over the monarchy and the establishment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.


The Best of Southeast Asia


This sampling platter for Southeast Asia hits all the highlights. Start in fun-filled Bangkok, then bus over to Cambodia to Siem Reap for Angkor’s magnificent temples. Continue the party in Phnom Penh, then roll southeast to Vietnam’s bustling Ho Chi Minh City. Head north to charming Hoi An, then hit the antique streets of Hanoi and the dramatic karst outcrops of Halong Bay.

Fly out of Vietnam to Laos’ Luang Prabang for some laid-back river life, then fly on to chic Chiang Mai for fabulous food, terrific temples and jungle encounters. Loop back through Bangkok to Ko Tao and learn to dive before hitting the rock-climbing playground of Krabi. Cross the border from Ko Lipe to Malaysia’s Pulau Langkawi, then tumble on to the foodie paradise of George Town (Penang) and overland to Malaysia’s multi-ethnic capital Kuala Lumpur, with a stop in the lush Cameron Highlands.

Roll on to Singapore, for five-star food-court feasts, then fly to Medan in Sumatra and bus to Bukit Lawang to meet orangutans. Travel on by bus and boat to Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital; soak up Java’s renowned culture in Yogyakarta, then bus it to active volcano Gunung Bromo. Finally, leapfrog to Bali for sun, fun and surf.


Almost Everything

6 months

If you really want to immerse yourself in Southeast Asia, you’ll need time to explore. Six months will give you room to roam, from mighty megacities to tropical islands and remote rainforests, with time in between to relax in some of Asia’s favourite traveller hang-outs.

Start in Bangkok and follow the coast to forested Ko Chang, then zip across the Cambodian border bound for the up-and-coming beach islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. Stop in French-influenced Kampot, then zip inland to battle-scarred but rebounding Phnom Penh. Now bus it to Siem Reap and admire the splendour of Angkor.

Board a flight to Pakse, gateway to the river islands of Si Phan Don, then a bus to gentle Vientiane and on via Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. Trundle to Nong Khiaw for tribal trekking and follow the rugged revolutionaries’ trail to Hanoi.

Roll south through Vietnam, sampling history, culture and beaches, then fly from Ho Chi Minh City back to temple-studded Bangkok. Now start your journey south along the Malay peninsula, snorkelling or diving around Ko Pha-Ngan and climbing at Krabi.

Slip over to Malaysia for the street eats of Penang and teeming coral reefs at Pulau Perhentian. Seek terrestrial wildlife inland at Taman Negara, and detour to the mist-shrouded hills of the Cameron Highlands before taking in the bright lights of Kuala Lumpur. A swift train ride will drop you in bright and bustling Singapore.

Fly on to Jakarta and admire the cultural treasures of Yogyakarta and Unesco-listed Borobudur. Bask on the beach in Bali or the Gili Islands, spot real-life dragons on Komodo and escape the crowds in Flores, or in Dili in little-visited Timor-Leste.

Alternatively fly from Jakarta to Pangkalan Bun to spot orangutans at Tanjung Puting National Park, then fly from Banjarmasin to Pontianak and bus to the border to reach Malaysia’s Kuching, a gateway to more nature and former headhunting cultures.

Take a connecting flight onwards to Yangon and the beautiful Buddhist temples of Bagan. Take a trek to Kalaw or relax by the placid waters of Inle Lake. Finish up back in Bangkok for some last-minute souvenir shopping before flying home.



Islands, Beaches Jungles


Become a beach connoisseur by splashing along the coastline of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, with some cultural and wildlife detours to keep things interesting.

Start in Bangkok and make a beeline for the islands in the Gulf of Thailand: dive-crazy Ko Tao and hippy-trippy Ko Pha-Ngan. Get certified on Tao, then head to the Andaman coast. Hat Khao Lak is the base for dive trips to the world-class Surin and Similan islands. Skip down to adrenaline-charged Krabi for rock climbing and cave exploring, then island hop to beach-bum-vibed Ko Lipe. Cross the border at Pulau Langkawi and bus south to graze at the famous hawker centres of Penang.

From Penang, take a bus to Kota Bharu, jumping-off point for the fabulous dive islands of Pulau Perhentian. Head south to Mersing, the mainland port for sleepy, beachy Pulau Tioman, then head to Kuala Lumpur to pick up a flight to Indonesia.

From Indonesia’s tip in Medan, visit the orangutan reserve of Bukit Lawang and hike up a volcano in Berastagi. From Medan fly to less-visited Banda Aceh and dive offshore near Pulau Weh.

Say goodbye to Sumatra and buzz over to Java, touching down in Jakarta, Indonesia’s intense capital. Explore Yogyakarta and take a day-trip to the giant Buddhist stupa of Borobudur and the ancient Hindu temple of Prambanan. Continue eastwards to the volcano Gunung Bromo for a sunrise spectacle over a lunar landscape.

Leapfrog to Denpasar to nuzzle the sandy beaches of the Bukit Peninsula or get cultured in Ubud. Party in Gili Trawangan, spot dragons on Komodo and go rustic on the beaches of Flores. You may need to extend your visa in Denpasar before flying to Makassar. Pay your respects in Tana Toraja, famed for its surreal funeral rites travel to the remote and pristine Togean Islands and Pulau Bunaken; it’s well worth the trip.

To close the loop, fly from Manado to Balikpapan on Kalimantan and head overland to reach the orangutan reserve at Tanjung Puting National Park. Roll on to Pontianak and cross the border to reach Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysia, for one last flight to finish up in calm and comfortable Singapore.


Mainland to Borneo & the Philippines


An adventurous trip from mainland to islands, climbing to the heavens and diving the depths. Kick off in Bangkok and follow the overland trail through Ko Chang to Sihanoukville for detours to beach islands offshore. Roll on to shabby-chic Phnom Penh, and take the river boat to Siem Reap to gaze at the architectural wonder of Angkor Wat.

Fly on to full-throttle Ho Chi Minh City, and dial down the pace at the beaches of Mui Ne and Nha Trang. Drift north to the antique city of Hoi An, the imperial capital of Hue and the extensive caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Rest in mature capital Hanoi, and make detours to karst-filled Halong Bay and ethnic highland gateway Sapa.

Fly on from Hanoi to Vientiane (Laos), bus to Vang Vieng and on to Luang Prabang, a temple-studded World Heritage town. Ride the Mekong River to the Laos/Thailand border at Huay Xai and enter the fabled Golden Triangle.

Onwards to Chiang Mai; take in the temples then make detours to the mountains of Pai or Mae Hong Son for views and cultural encounters. Tumble south through the ancient capitals at Sukhothai and Ayuthaya before returning to Bangkok. Take a budget flight or bus south to Kuala Lumpur. Explore colonial Melaka and loop back to KL via the steamy rainforests of Taman Negara. Fly to Brunei’s unassuming capital, Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), gateway to wildlife-rich Ulu Temburong National Park.

Cross the border into Malaysian Borneo by bus, bound for Kota Kinabalu, and ascend Mt Kinabalu, Borneo’s highest peak. Detour out to the orangutan sanctuary at Sepilok, and scuba dive around Semporna, then return to Kota Kinabalu for a flight to the Philippines. After landing in fast-paced Manila, bus it to the spectacular Ifugao rice terraces near Banaue then return to Manila and hit up party isle Boracay via dive-tastic Puerto Galera. Spend a few days unwinding, then fly or bus to Cebu City, the Philippines’ second city.

Cebu is an easy base for detours to dive at Malapascua and hill-hike on Bohol. Fly on from Cebu to Puerto Princesa on Palawan and drift north to El Nido via lonely beaches and pristine jungles. Take the all-day boat to wreck-diving playground Coron before flying back to Manila.

Phong Nha cave, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam | JEFF CAGLE/SHUTTERSTOCK ©


Mekong Meander


This trip follows Southeast Asia’s signature river downstream from northern Laos all the way to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, offering a mesmerising window onto ever-changing landscapes and cultures.

From the bustling international gateway of Bangkok, make a beeline for Chiang Rai, near the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand converge. Cross over into laid-back Laos at Huay Xai and step back in time. Take a slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, stopping overnight in Pak Beng. Soak up the magic before leaving the river for some relaxation in Vang Vieng.

Continue to Vientiane and reunite with the mighty waterway. The Lao capital has some great cafes, restaurants and even a sprinkling of nightlife (the last you’ll encounter for a while after leaving). Board a bus and follow the river southeast, stopping off in Tha Khaek and Savannakhet before arriving in Pakse, jumping-off point for the imposing Khmer sanctuary of Wat Phu Champasak. Detour to the waterfalls and villages of the Bolaven Plateau then drift south to the laid-back islands of Si Phan Don.

Cross into Cambodia. If you missed the Irrawaddy dolphins near Si Phan Don, you’ll get a second chance to spot them further south in the laid-back riverside town of Kratie. From Kratie, consider a visit to the mountains of Mondulkiri province, home to elephants, hill tribes and untamed jungles.

After weeks in rural provinces, it’s back to big-city living in Phnom Penh, where the Mekong merges with another vital regional waterway, the Tonlé Sap, a riverine link to Siem Reap and the majestic temples of Angkor. See the waters

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