You’re going to love backpacking Southeast Asia!
It’s one of the most captivating and amusing areas of the world.
I’ve been slowly migrating around Southeast Asia now since 2009 and to be honest, I still haven’t been to a fraction of the places I’d like to visit – there’s still so much for me to explore… but, I have been to quite a few places and my aim of this ultimate guide is to offer you some personal travel advice and tips about where to go, what to see and what to eat!
After just over 3 years I have finally been to the 10 countries that make up Southeast Asia (11 if you count East Timor but I haven’t been there).
There are a lot of links throughout this guide, if you see anything that looks interesting just click on the link for more information about it.
For each country I’ll give a little introduction, then go over a few of the cities I’ve visited and enjoyed, and finally briefly mention a few places in that country where I’d like to go… but haven’t yet.
Also, be sure to check out the videos that I’ve embedded into this guide. Alternatively, you can browse my video channel to watch country specific videos.
I hope this will be a great resource on your backpacking Southeast Asia trip of a lifetime! If you have any other advice or questions, please leave a comment at the bottom of this article!
Visting Thailand is almost mandatory when it comes to backpacking through Southeast Asia – just about everyone comes through Thailand at least a few times. Recent statistics have shown that Thailand receives something like 19 million tourists annually (and rising each year).
With a busy airport, it’s easy to catch a flight directly into Bangkok to begin your southeast Asia adventure – that’s what I did in 2009 before visiting other countries in the region.
Spending time in the Big Mango (Bangkok) is a thrilling experience. Here are a few things to check out when you’re in town:
I’ve spent over two years in and out of Bangkok now, it’s a great hub for getting to other destinations around the country and around Asia
If you have some extra time in Bangkok I would highly recommend visiting Amphawa Floating Market which is one of the most popular local floating markets and the Maeklong Train Market (VIDEO Above), a truly fascinating market that takes places directly over the train tracks (and the train still runs).
After Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a destination located in northern central Thailand many choose to visit. It’s known for its forest trekking, beautiful mountainous scenery, for all kinds of adventure sports and for the famous Thai elephants.
- Pai: One of the most famous places on the Thailand route of backpacking Southeast Asia is a little country town known as Pai. I haven’t been there, but I’ve heard that it is a highlight of many people’s trip.
Siem Reap – Angkor Wat
The big ticket for travelers visiting Cambodia (or even Southeast Asia altogether) are the famous temples of Angkor Wat – a truly remarkable attraction.
When I visited the temples, I took local transportation from Bangkok and chose to see the temples for just one day (you can also buy a 2 day ticket). It’s not just a single temple, but Angkor Wat is a huge area with many ancient temples and ruins.
As far as the Siem Reap town goes, I wasn’t much of a fan – tons of tourists and lots of Western restaurants. Backpacking Southeast Asia you should definitely see Angkor Wat but don’t spend too much extra time in Siem Reap.
It’s been a long time since I was last in Phnom Penh and I know some things have evolved in the city. I did write a few cultural observations about life in Phnom Penh and the video is the first city video I made!
Places I haven’t been:
Southern Cambodia: The southern portion of Cambodia is beginning to gain a reputation as a great backpacking Southeast Asia destination for its lazy lifestyle and beautiful beaches. Check out Sihanoukville or Kep.
It seems that almost the entire country of Laos was colonized by relaxation – partly because the country is surrounded by bustling Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand so it’s a quiet oasis in the middle of booming industrialization.
If you are looking for scenic outdoors, hiking and or course relaxing in a hammock, Laos is a country you’ll surely enjoy!
The capital and largest city in Laos is in reality a very low-key easy going city. Many would say there’s not much to do, but when you’re backpacking in Laos you don’t want a long list of attractions to check off from your to-do list.
Situated on the Mekong River, Vientiane is a great spot for watching the sunset, eating Laotian food and hanging out.
Luang Prabang is the Chiang Mai of Laos – easy to navigate and a place you’ll probably fall in love with while backpacking Southeast Asia.
It’s beautiful, there are plenty of places to stay, there’s a fantastic handicraft market and there are lots of nature related activities in the area.
- Boating the Mekong: A few years ago I took a 3 day boat trip from Luang Prabang all the way to the Thai border and then on to Chiang Mai. It was a fantastic river experience. If you are interested you can take the boat in either direction.
Peaceful even by Laos standards, Champasak is a quaint little town and the gateway to the famous temple of Wat Phou, located just 15 minutes away by bicycle.
- Visiting Wat Phou: A UNESCO world heritage site, similar to Angkor Wat on a smaller scale, but I though the setting and the ruins were absolutely beautiful – I would highly recommend it.
Of the 4000 islands, there are 3 main popular islands to visit. You may want to check out all 3 and decide for your self which you prefer.