So you want to travel in Southeast Asia… well, you’ve made a good choice! Backpacking in Southeast Asia is incredibly cheap, relatively easy, and there are more places, sights, and activities than you can shake a stick at. I have travelled all over the world and Southeast Asia remains my favorite region to travel.
“But how much time do you really need to see Southeast Asia?”, you might be wondering. The answer is honestly as much time as you possibly have.
On my first-ever backpacking trip I spent 9 months travelling every country in the region. While you can easily spend that much time (or more!) and never get bored, it’s also perfectly possible to have an amazing Southeast Asia backpacking experience that lasts a couple of weeks or months.
Your only challenge will be in deciding where to go and how much time to spend in each place. And that can be easier said than done…
Since I often get questions about this, let me try to offer some advice. Though rather than providing pre-fab Day 1, Day 2, etc. itineraries, I think it’s more helpful to give some high-level advice. It’s good to have a rough plan for your journey, but it’s great to keep some flexibility as well. And, after all, everyone’s goals and interests are different.
Firstly: don’t bite off more than you can chew
Unless you have all the time in the world, chances are your route is already too ambitious.
It’s only natural to want to see every listed highlight for Southeast Asia, but it’s often better to try and pare down the number of destinations. I know from planning so many trips myself that the temptation to overreach can be strong.
On travel forums and places like Reddit I constantly see people asking if, say, 3 weeks is enough to see all the four mainland SEA countries. It might be technically possible, but I don’t recommend it. You would probably need another holiday just to recover from such a hectic schedule, not to mention you are will experience many things only very superficially.
Paring things down can actually improve your trip, as you will have more time to experience each place more meaningfully rather then just ticking things off a list. (Related Post: How to deal with “fear of missing out” and making the right choices).
Consider your transit time as well: it’s easy to underestimate the distances involved, and you might be too tired after a long journey to immediately go sightseeing. Keep some room in your plans for transit and recovery time.
Balancing your itinerary
During your trip planning your attention will inevitably turn to the “Big Things”, like must-see places, ‘top 10’ experiences and UNESCO world heritage sites. This was a natural focus for me as well.