Asia

STA Travel’s ideal southeast Asia itineraries

Discover glittering temples and stunning waterfalls, wander rippling rice terraces, relax on pristine beaches surrounded by rugged limestone karsts and dive in crystal-clear waters. From the legendary nightlife of Khao San Road in Bangkok to the UNESCO-listed ruins of Angkor Wat, Indochina is diverse not only in landscape but also in its tantalising cuisine. Whether you’re after a yoga retreat or a Full Moon Party, this corner of the world has something for every hungry backpacker.

But what exactly do we mean by Indochina? Indochina was formed in 1887, and refers to a geographical region of southeast Asia that today encompasses Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Malaysia. Basically, it’s what we like to call the authentic, cultural side of Southeast Asia. These budget-friendly destinations offer more than you could imagine… but one question burns on everyone’s mind when they start planning a trip here.

How can you possibly squeeze all of these countries into one backpacking odyssey?

We’ve gathered together some epic Indochina itineraries to whet your appetite, ranging from 3 weeks to two months.

 

STA Travel’s ideal southeast Asia itineraries

First of all, how much time will you have?

3 weeks

A month

6 weeks

2+ months

 

3 weeks: Thailand and Cambodia

Running cambodian kids

For those who want: Volunteering and local life

Bangkok (4 days) – Surin (5 days) – Siem Reap (3 days) – Surin Elephant Village (4 days) – Khao Yai (2 days) – Bangkok (3 days)

If you’re short on time, but equally keen to sink your teeth into an authentic and meaningful experience, this Thailand & Cambodia Voluntour will offer you the chance to give back by working on three different projects around Bangkok and Surin.

 

Day 1-4: Bangkok

Transfer from the airport and check into your Guesthouse near Khao San Road with a guide. On day two, see some of Thailand’s major sites including the Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun and the Giant Reclining Buddha. Head to the lively Khao San Road that evening for drinks with your new travel mates. On day 3, head to work at Wat Temple School, a local school with teaching and games to help the children with their English. Wat Temple School provides free education for local families. That evening, blow off some steam with a night out with your new travel friends. Spend your final day exploring Bangkok’s biggest market, Chatuchak Market, which spans over 11 acres. Find anything from handicrafts to antiques, and heaps of street food.

 

Day 5-9: Surin

Spend day 5 travelling north, and the next four days working on a rewarding volunteering project in one of Surin’s village schools. Set your alarms early as each day will kick off around 7.45AM. Work for approximately 4-6 hours a day and expect to take part in tasks including painting classrooms, creating gravity fed water systems, and renovating play areas.

 

Days 10-12: Siem Reap

Time to leave Surin and head on to cultural Cambodia! Arrive and settle into Siem Reap on your first evening before enjoying a full day to explore Siem Reap by tuk tuk the next day.

 

Day 13-16: Surin Elephant Village Experience

Live alongside and care for friendly ellies in a rural elephant village in Surin. Get to bathe these resident giants, learn how to cut bamboo to help feed them and enjoy local Thai food for the duration of your time here. Adventure seekers can spend free time kayaking on the river. Spend your last day browsing the Silk Market.

 

Day 17: Khao Yai, Northern Thailand

Depart Surin around 9AM and make your way towards Khao Yai National Park, with its gorgeous scenery. Relax that evening in preparation for your upcoming trek!

 

Day 18: Khao Yai

Join a local guide today and limber up for some guided trekking around this gorgeous National Park. Trek to one of Thailand’s most famous waterfalls and take in the view at Pha Daew Dai.

 

Day 19-20: Bangkok

It’s back to the frenetic capital for one more night of dancing and drinking on the lively Khao San Road. On day 20, embark on a bike tour of the city, so make sure that you stock up with a good breakfast! Get off the beaten track as you navigate your way through rural streets and alleyways. After the tour you’ll have some free time to spend at your own leisure. Shop in Bangkok’s sprawling markets or alternatively, get those knots out of your back with a much-needed Thai massage.

 

 

30 days: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos

Image: @thiagoavelar

 

For those who want: Adventure and discovery – you’ll visit four diverse countries on this epic 30-day tour of Indochina.

Bangkok (1 day) – Siem Reap (2 days) – Phnom Penh (2 days) – Koh Rong (2 days) – Chambok (1 day) – Ho Chi Minh City (2 days) – Nha Trang/Da Nang (2 days) – Hoi An (2 days) – Huế (2 days) – Hanoi/Ha Long (3 days) – Vientiane (2 days) – Vang Vieng (1 day) – Luang Prabang (2 day) – Pak Beng (1 day) – Chiang Khong (1 day) – Chiang Mai (2 days) – Bangkok (2 days)

 

Day 1: Bangkok

Arrive at any time into the bustling capital of Bangkok, home to ornate temples, a lively nightlife, delicious street food and wacky night markets.

 

Day 2: Bangkok to Siem Reap

It’s on to Siem Reap where you’ll explore and enjoy a tasty Khmer meal.

 

Day 3: Angkor Wat

Head off on a guided tour of the Angkor Wat temple complex. Choose to also visit the Angkor National Museum and the Tonle Sap floating village.

 

Day 4: Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

It’s onto Cambodia’s capital today, Phnom Penh, where you’ll get settled in with an orientation walk.

 

Day 5: Phnom Penh

Today, you can choose to learn about Cambodia’s turbulent history with a trip to the Tuol Sleng Prison and Killing Fields. You can also opt to visit the National Museum if you want to learn even more, with its adjacent complex home to the Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace. Round off the day with a street food crawl.

 

Day 6: Phnom Penh to Koh Rong

Hop on a transfer to the coastal hub of Sihanoukville before boarding a boat to your very own private beach on Koh Rong. Relax on the beach, have a drink, and feast on amazing local seafood.

 

Day 7: Koh Rong

Time for some much-needed R&R. Here you can go fishing, kayaking, hiking or snorkelling amidst kaleidoscopic coral, and spend your nights swimming surrounded by phosphorescent plankton (on nights without a large moon. Keep your eyes peeled!)

 

Day 8: Chambok

After travelling back to the mainland, get the chance to experience a village homestay in one of the more remote areas of Cambodia. Get settled in with a homecooked meal with your hosts that evening.

 

Day 9: Chambok to Ho Chi Minh City

It’s across the border into Vietnam to visit Ho Chi Minh City. Here, you can choose to visit the Ben Thahn market before hitting the town that evening. See if there are any live music nights on at the Rex Hotel.

 

Day 10: Ho Chi Minh City/Nha Trang

Explore Vietnam’s biggest city by foot before boarding an overnight train to Nha Trang.

 

Day 11: Nha Trang

Make the most of your free morning, and opt to explore local markets and shops, chill out on the beach or see the nearby historical sites. Spend the evening sniffing out the amazing street food.

 

Day 12: Nha Trang to Da Nang

Today, you’ll enjoy some free time to relax in Nha Trang before boarding an overnight train to Da Nang and transferring to Hoi An.

 

Day 13: Da Nang to Hoi An

UNESCO listed Hoi An is one of Southeast Asia’s most charming towns, filled with gorgeous heritage buildings, lanterns and canals. With spare time on your hands, the world is your oyster. You can take a cooking class, cycle to the beach or wander around the old town bar hopping. On your second day in Hoi An, start the day strong with a noodle-making demonstration and a local lunch at the G Adventures supported Oodles of Noodles Project.

 

Day 15-16: Hoi An to Huế

Make your way north up the famous Hai Van Pass, to the city of Huế, where you can choose to visit the Royal Citadel and tombs, wind your way around the countryside by motorbike or take a Perfume River Cruise. On the evening of day 16, board an overnight train to Hanoi.

 

Day 17: Ha Long Bay

Make for Halong Bay for a seafood lunch cruise and cave visit.

 

Day 18-19: Hanoi

Take a guided walk through the Old Quarter and choose to explore the Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Hoa Lo Prison. Or, you can make your way around the shops of the Old Quarter to get yourself some local souvenirs. Look out for the cheapest beer in the world: the local Bia Hoi is roughly 10p per pint!

 

Day 20: Hanoi to Vientiane

Spend the morning seeing Hanoi’s sights before hopping on a short flight to Laos’ capital, Vientiane. Here you can navigate your way around temples, see the golden stupa of That Luang and try your hand at bargaining in the local markets.

 

Day 21-22: Vientiane to Vang Vieng

Time to explore the stunning limestone karsts surrounding Vang Vieng. Here, you can go biking, hiking, swimming or caving. Then, you’ll take a scenic drive to Vang Vieng, set along the Nam Song river. Enjoy views of rice fields and limestone karsts, and catch a sunset or two, beer in hand.

 

Day 23-24: Luang Prabang

Today, you’ll travel from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. Here, you can observe a religious ceremony, central to Laotian culture, where monks are given their daily allowance of food that has been donated to them.  You can also choose to get involved with a cooking class, go temple-hopping or take a dip in beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls.

 

Day 25: Luang Prabang to Pak Beng

Today, hop on a long houseboat on the iconic Mekong River before arriving at a village homestay where you’ll spend the night. Embark on an exciting two-day journey up the Mekong River, with the ultimate aim of arriving at Chiang Khong.

 

Day 26: Pak Beng to Chiang Kong

Another day travelling the mighty Mekong River. Cross the border into Thailand and arrive in Chiang Khong that afternoon.

 

Day 27-28: Chiang Mai

Roll up your sleeves for a Thai cooking class, go on a bike ride through lush scenery or visit the golden Doi Suthep temple atop of the hills overlooking the city. Then, board an overnight train to Bangkok.

 

Day 29-30: Bangkok

A free day to explore Bangkok, a city of sensory overloads. The National Museum, The Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Jim Thompson’s House are all at your disposal! Or, opt to cruise along the Praya river. That evening you’ll wave goodbye to your new favourite place on Earth over Thai meal and a cold beer to say adieu to your wonderful trip.

 

Does this sound up your street? Check out our month-long Indochina Discovery tour to find out more.

 

40 days: More of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos

For those who want: All of the above, with a bit of Thai island time thrown in for good measure

Got a bit more time to spend on the road? Fuse the above itinerary with a three-day trek through forest terrain to meet northern Thailand’s local hilltribes and time to relax on the pristine beaches of Ko Pha-Ngan.

 

Bangkok (1 day) – Siem Reap (2 days) – Phnom Penh (2 days) – Koh Rong (2 days) – Chambok (1 day) – Ho Chi Minh City (1 day) – Nha Trang (2 days) – Da Nang (2 days) – Hoi An (1 day) – Huế (2 days) – Hanoi/Ha Long (3 days) – Vientiane (1 day) – Vang Vieng (2 days) – Luang Prabang (2 days) – Muang Pakbèng/Chiang Khong (2 days) – Chiang Mai (2 days) – Ban Mae Jok/Pa Khao Lam (2 days)- Chiang Mai (1 day) – Bangkok (3 days) – Surat Thani/Khao Sok (1 day) Ko Pha Ngan (2 days) – Ko Tao (3 days)

 

Day 1: Bangkok

Today is your first day, so arrive at any time into this frenetic capital.

 

Day 2-3: Siem Reap

You’re on to Siem Reap where you can enjoy a tasty Khmer meal at a G for Good-supported restaurant. On day 2, enjoy a guided tour of the UNESCO-listed Angkor Wat temple complex. Choose to visit the Tonle Sap floating village and the Angkor National Museum.

 

Day 4-5: Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

Hop on a transfer to Cambodia’s capital and get settled into Phnom Penh. On your second day in Cambodia’s capital, learn about Cambodia’s sombre history with a visit to the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Prison. Later you’ll head out for a street food crawl to try a variety of culinary delights.

 

Day 6: Phnom Penh to Koh Rong

Take a transfer to Sihanoukville and hop on a boat to reach your very own private beach on Koh Rong. Here you can snorkel colourful coral reefs, build a sandcastle and gorge on seafood.

 

Day 7: Koh Rong

Enjoy a free day to go swimming, hiking, snorkelling, kayaking, fishing… the island is yours to explore.

 

Day 8: Chambok

After travelling back to the mainland, you’ll head on to a village homestay. Get settled in with a homecooked meal with your hosts that evening.

 

Day 9-10: Ho Chi Minh City

It’s across the border into Vietnam to visit the charming Ho Chi Minh City on the morning of day 9. Here, you can choose to visit the Ben Thahn market before hitting the town that evening. See if there are any live music nights on at the Rex Hotel. On your second day, catch an overnight flight to Nha Trang

 

Day 11:  Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang

Walk around Vietnam’s biggest city for the day before boarding an overnight train to Nha Trang. Spend the morning exploring local markets and shops, chill out on the beach or see the nearby historical sites. That evening, spend a while browsing the street food stands that line the central area of the city.

 

Day 12: Nha Trang to Hoi An

Today, you’ll enjoy some free time to relax in Nha Trang before boarding an overnight train to Da Nang and transferring to Hoi An.

 

Day 13-14: Hoi An

Wander around the UNESCO listed old town exploring the eateries, bars and lantern stalls. Hone your cooking skills with a noodle-making demonstration at Oodles of Noodles Project, and relax on the beach.

 

Day 15: Hoi An to Huế

Make your way north to the city of Huế, where you can choose to visit the Royal Citadel and tombs, wind your way around the countryside by motorbike or take a Perfume River Cruise.

 

Day 16: Huế to Hanoi

Enjoy some free time in historic Huế today before boarding an overnight train to Hanoi.

 

Day 17: Hanoi to Ha Long Bay

Once you get to Hanoi, it’s best to make straight for for Halong Bay for a seafood lunch cruise and cave visit. You’ll stay overnight on a live-aboard boat before heading back the next day.

 

Day 18-19: Ha Long to Hanoi

Take a walk through the colourful chaos of Hanoi’s Old Quarter and choose to explore the Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Hoa Lo Prison. Or, you can make your way around the shops of the Old Quarter to get yourself some local souvenirs.

 

Day 20: Hanoi to Vientiane

Spend the morning seeing Hanoi’s sights before hopping on a short flight to Laos’ capital, Vientiane. Here you can navigate your way around temples, see the golden stupa of That Luang and try your hand at bargaining in the local markets.

 

Day 21-22: Vang Vieng

Time to explore the stunning limestone karsts surrounding Vang Vieng, set along the Nam Song river. Here, you can go biking, hiking, swimming, tubing or caving. Enjoy views of rice fields and limestone karsts. Chill and watch sunset with a beer and kick back in one of the many bars in the area.

 

Day 23-24: Luang Prabang

Today, you’ll travel from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. Here, you’ll get to observe a religious ceremony, central to Laotian culture, where monks are given their daily allowance of food that has been donated to them.  You can also choose to get involved with a cooking class, go temple-hopping or take a dip in beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls a short drive away.

 

Day 25: Luang Prabang to Pak Beng

Today, hop on a long houseboat on the iconic Mekong River before arriving at a village homestay where you’ll spend the night. Embark on an exciting two-day journey up the Mekong River, with the ultimate aim of arriving at Chiang Khong.

 

Day 26: Pak Beng to Chiang Khong

After another day travelling the mighty Mekong River, cross the border into Thailand and arrive in Chiang Khong that afternoon.

 

Day 27: Chiang Khong to Chiang Mai

Today, you’ll drive to Chiang Mai where you’ll enjoy a free afternoon.

 

Day 28: Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Soak up those last moments in Chiang Mai – roll up your sleeves for a Thai cooking class, go on a bike ride or visit the golden Doi Suthep temple. Then, board an overnight train to Bangkok.

 

Day 29: Chiang Mai to Ban Mae Jok

Limber up for a full day of trekking! Transfer from Chiang Mai to Mae Malai village where your trek will kick off. You’ll journey though forests and rural terrain to explore diverse hilltribe villages and learn about their unique local cultures.

 

Day 30: Ban Mae Jok to Pa Khao Lam

Start the day with 2-3 hours of trekking and head to a Karen village after lunch. Here, you’ll learn all about scarf-making and basket weaving. Continue on with your trekking adventures for another couple of hours until you reach the next village where you’ll spend the night. You’ll also get the unique chance to go fishing at Mae Tang River using local tools. And, roll up your sleeves to construct a bamboo raft.

 

Day 31: (Pa Khao Lam to Chiang Mai

Fill up with some breakfast to kickstart the day before leaving the village by bamboo raft, and stop at other villages en route. After lunch you’ll hop on a transfer back to Chiang Mai.

 

Day 32: Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Choose to go shopping, enjoy a Thai massage or navigate your way around Chiang Mai’s many temples. That evening you’ll board an overnight train to Bangkok.

 

Day 33-34: Bangkok

A free day to explore this bustling city! Discover Wat Pho and the Grand Palace, relax with a Thai massage or explore the canals on a boat tour before hopping on an overnight train to Surat Thani on your second evening here.

 

Day 35 Surat Thani to Khao Sok

Start the day with an included breakfast at Kao Thep Pitak Community-Owned Farm and Restaurant. Then, take an excursion to Lake Cheow Lan in Khao Sok National Park. Once here, you can opt to go swimming or hiking and stretch those limbs.

 

Day 36-37: Koh Pha-Ngan

Today, you’ll make your way across southern Thailand to Ko Pha-Ngan in the Gulf of Thailand where you’ll enjoy a free afternoon. By day, chill out on the beach, and by night, make the most of its lively nightlife. On your second day, explore the island’s crashing waterfalls, swim in scenic lagoons, go hiking, or simply relax on the beach.

 

Day 38-40: Koh Tao

A ferry ride will take you to chilled out Koh Tao where you can enjoy an afternoon to go snorkelling. It’s also a top diving spot! On your second day on this island, grab a drink in one of its many beach bars or navigate your way around the amazing coral and marine life snorkelling. If you fancy going diving, opt to book a Open Water Half Day Dive Experience to take two dives, guided by expert divers.

 

Like the look of this route? It’s best executed on our Epic Indochina tour – which you can check out here.

 

Got even more time and wanna keep it flexible?

 

If you’ve two months or more in Southeast Asia you really don’t need to plan each day down to the last detail. Keep your schedule flexible by opting for STRAY Asia, a hop-on hop-off bus network that’s perfect for the nomads amongst you. Learn local know-how from knowledgeable guides, absorb practical advice for your travels and get totally immersed into new cultures. You’ll be able to rely on safe and reliable transport to organise your activities and accommodation. By helping local initiatives en route you’ll also feel like you’re doing your bit to give back to the local communities, as well as making lifelong friends along the way. Travelling for over a month? Opt for the Lot pass and you’ll be able to do THE LOT. Starting in Bangkok, you’ll travel through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and end up in northern Vietnam. Bed down in rural villages, hop on a riverboat to navigate your way through underground caves, see UNESCO-listed temples and relax on pristine coastlines. That’s one way to make a splash!

 

What next?

If this hasn’t been enough to get you senses tingling, we’re not sure what would be. From its mouthwatering cuisine to its ancient sites and friendly locals, southeast Asia travel offers something for everyone. Check out our Southeast Asia tours or get in touch to get planning your Indochina adventures now.