Southeast Asia is a fantastic region to travel in and explore. There are plenty of places to see and lots of things to do. Depending where you’re flying from (in our case Europe) the flights to get there are quite long and can be on the pricier side and if you’re like us you either don’t want to use up all your vacation days in one trip or simply don’t have that many vacation days to do a super long trip. This means choices have to be made, and choices are hard! This two week Southeast Asia itinerary shows the choices that we made on our first trip to the region.
Our Southeast Asia itinerary starts in Singapore as a base and first place to visit and then goes to Siem Reap in Cambodia and Thailand. We were torn between Indonesia and Thailand, or rather on how to split the time to see Indonesia and Thailand but based on flight times and the amount of places to visit we settled for Thailand only leaving Indonesia for another time (hopefully soon)
There are many ways to get around Southeast Asia, and we met lots of people who used trains and buses as a cheaper alternative, for the sake of time we simply went for flights. There is a number of low cost airlines. We used AirAsia, JetStar Asia, Tiger Airways, Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways (those last two aren’t really low cost but the prices were acceptable). But if you have more time or if it is more suitable for your budget or preferences there are many other alternatives. Have a look at Nomadic Matt’s post on how get around Southeast Asia.
Singapore: First four nights
We arrived in Singapore and I was lucky enough to have an aunt living there at the time so you could say hotel was included. Three days in Singapore was perfect for this trip and we were able to see quite a bit, at least what we were interested in. So what did we visit in Singapore?
- Jurong Bird Park
- Gardens by the Bay
- Marina Bay Sands – we had drinks by the pool
- Singapore Botanic Garden
- Singapore Zoo
- Orchard Road
- Little India
- Civic District – have the classic Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel Long Bar (home of the Singapore Sling)
We were able to have an active trip but not hectic. We went running in the Botanic Garden a couple mornings (yes I was that type of person before kids! lol) We didn’t really do any museums because that is not what we are most into, we like to walk around the city, see the sights and get the feel for the different areas in town.
Singapore is a great place for food. We had great Chinese and Indian food in Chinatown and Little India. We were also there during the Chinese New Year celebrations so it was quite a show to see the performances in the different restaurants and streets. We also loved having Satay for dinner in Satay Street. So much so that the second time around we went back there! You can’t leave without trying black pepper crab, that was likely the best dinner we had during all three nights there.
Siem Reap: Three nights
Our Southeast Asia itinerary included three nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This was the only part of Cambodia that we visited and while we were there we met people that had been to Phnom Penh and beaches in Cambodia and had so many good things to tell about that – so depending on your plans you may want to consider it.
We stayed in a lovely boutique hotel that provided a tuk-tuk service for every room. It was perfect because we had a way to get everywhere. We learned so much about Cambodia, it was beautiful but also a bit heart wrenching to hear about what happened during the Pol Pot regime and to witness the conditions in which a lot of the people live in.
The day that we arrived we spent the day at the pool in the hotel but made our way to the Angkor Temples to watch the sunset. We climbed up a hill (where everyone else was climbing) to get a good watching spot and it was lovely! On the following days we spent a full day visiting the temples, we hired a tour guide so that we could hear all the history and know where we were. One of the days we woke up in time for sunset. Angkor is known for its sunrises and sunsets, so if you are there don’t miss it!
Every evening we walked around the night market, at the hotel they recommended us to ask for bargains since many times you can get up to 50% to 70% off the price but when you realise what you are paying for things, like one or two dollars for a t-shirt we simply paid the full price.
We had a not so lovely experience and we tell you about it so that you can avoid the disgust. We went one day for a sunset boat trip in the river. The trip was nice around some sort of floating village, and so was the sunset but we had been warned by the hotel that there were plenty of tourist traps where people try to get you to visit orphanages and donate either money or things, making the orphaned children some sort of touristic attraction.
When we were already on the boat we were pressured into going to visit the children, of course we didn’t but it was a super awkward moment where we had to justify ourselves for not wanting to “see and help” the kids. If you want to help make informed decisions and make sure you are helping organisations that actually help people. Also we recommend you take formal tours, if possible recommended by your hotel to avoid any bad experiences.
Bangkok: Two nights
The next part of our Southeast Asia itinerary were two nights in Bangkok. It was lovely! lots of markets and temples to visit. We took a boat, that was part of the public transportation from one side of town to the other and the views were amazing. We also booked tickets to go and watch a Muai Thai fight, it was actually a really fun experience.
One of the nights we went to the Lebua hotel sky bar just for drinks, the bar is better known as the Hangover bar because of the movie. The views of the river from up there were beautiful, and the city all lit up was really special. Bangkok was a lovely cultural experience. Don’t miss the train market and the floating market – if you can only choose one please choose the train market, it is really something! I mean people are going about their business and suddenly they move their things back and the train passes, as soon as it passes it is business as usual. You can see a video in my Instagram Highlights of Southeast Asia.
Eco lodge close to Chiang Mai: Two nights
We flew to Chiang Mai and made our way to a lovely Ecolodge where we did lots of activities such as sunrise bike rides in the rice fields, we took Thai cooking lessons, had a thai massage. It was more like an eco-adventure, we met people from a tribe that lives nearby and the children from the school performed typical dances. We went to the morning market to have a classic thai breakfast and we got to meet other couples and families traveling in the same areas. It was a lovely experience that we would love to repeat.
Chiang Mai: One night
We checked out of the eco-lodge by noon and had the rest of the day to spend in Chiang Mai. I absolutely recommend more time here. We barely had time to do anything and there are plenty of temples and stuff to see. Six years later I am embarrassed to admit it but I will do it anyway because it is important to educate each other. We went to Tiger Kingdom and to visit the Karen tribe while in Chiang Mai. Please don’t do as we did.
Tiger Kingdom is much better than other places around Thailand because the animals are not sedated and they do conservation efforts of the species, but still, the animals are kept in cages, we saw a few in very reduced ones, and many of the smaller tigers will end up being sold to zoos around the world. My thought about this today is: what is the point? Why do we even want to visit a place like that? Is it really worth it just for a picture? Yes the tigers are majestic and impressive to see, but they belong somewhere else.
Worse than Tiger Kingdom was the visit to the Karen or long-neck tribe village. The Karen people are refugees that escaped their homes in Myanmar and made it into Thailand. The Thai government welcomed them but didn’t have a problem in using the women with their long necks as a touristic attraction. A quick google search shows that they are not paid for being “used” as a touristic attraction, and there are not many efforts done to integrate them into the country, I even read that the Karen children are not allowed to go to school.
I strongly believe that if we are privileged enough to be able to travel around the world we also need to be responsible in what we do and make informed decisions. I wouldn’t repeat this part of the trip, but we didn’t know any better at the time – When we know better we do better (and I hope that you do too).
Koh Yao Noi and Khao Lak: Three nights each
This was probably the hardest part of our Southeast Asia itinerary to decide because there are so many islands and pretty beaches in Thailand, we visited Koh Yao Noi and Khao Lak, while we loved both stays we would probably not repeat Koh Yao Noi. Instead of telling you where to go I’ll tell you what I would look at to decide and then it is up to you, just look at the map and plan your stay!
Koh Yao Noi was a lovely island, we stayed in a nice boutique hotel since we were celebrating our second wedding anniversary it felt like a great choice and it was. We took a water taxi from Phuket and once there we took the hotels transportation to the hotel, it took quite long to get there, maybe an hour. The roads weren’t really roads and they were very hilly. The hotel was amazing! BUT, and here comes the only but, it was quite isolated. We were not able to go out and have dinner, we had to eat every single meal at the hotel. And while the food was great, it was obviously expensive. Next time I would check where the hotel is located and what is around it, how easy it is to get around the island, etc.
Khao Lak was just perfect! We read that it was less crowded than Phuket and because we prefer to avoid super touristy spots we settled for Khao Lak. The beach was beautiful, we had the sunset right in front of our window every night and the hotel was in the middle of everything. We ate at the hotel once, the food was amazing, but even more amazing was finding lots of eating spots.
In Khao Lak we also fell for a tourist trap, but at least one we laugh about. We wanted to go to Similan Islands for the day and instead of hiring the guy who offered to take us on his boat we went for the fancy “big company” boat trip. It would have cost exactly the same. But anyway we took this tour with a company that crammed more than 30 people in a boat for 25 maybe. There was literally no space in between person and person lol. The islands are so worth a visit, but do your research! and don’t just go for the nice brochure.
A Southeast Asia itinerary probably deserves months of time to travel around and explore it. There are so many countries, beaches, places to visits and adventures to be had. We really loved it and are looking forward to go back. For some reason when the topic comes up we always think we want to go back to Thailand as well! even if we haven’t visited Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar or Indonesia. I hope that tells you how amazing Thailand is as a country to visit and travel in. Oh and by the way if you do make it to Thailand don’t miss trying sticky rice with mango. We’re still obsessed!
Have you been to other places in Southeast Asia? Share with us in the comments and tell us what is so great about the places that you have visited. According to you what’s the perfect length for a Southeast Asia itinerary?