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Recently Tom and I have been feeling a familiar itch. It’s the same itch we felt when we began fantasizing about full time travel, the same itch we felt when we were considering buying a Toyota Dolphin. It’s the itch that tells us we’re ready to shake things up in a BIG way. We threw out the rule book years ago, and we aren’t afraid to be flexible and make changes when they feel right to us.
So, after taking some time to consider our next move, we’ve decided to backpack Southeast Asia for the next 6 months! We’ve planned a Southeast Asia backpacking route that we will tweak and report back on as we make our way across Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Malaysia.
The best time to visit Southeast Asia is in the dry months from November to March, so it’s a perfect place for us to spend our winter.
UPDATE: We are now back from our 6 month Southeast Asia journey, and I’ve updated this post to reflect the actual route we used!
Why Southeast Asia, you ask? That’s a great question with many answers.
Southeast Asia is both Affordable and Exotic
We absolutely loved traveling through Mexico, largely because we love experiencing new and different cultures.
From the floating markets of Thailand to the ancient temples of Cambodia, Southeast Asia offers a huge assortment of exotic cultural experiences. Add to that the affordable food and accommodation options throughout the region, and Southeast Asia quickly landed at the top of our international travel list.
The more we read, the more our Southeast Asia itinerary seems to expand. There are so many incredible things to see and do in Southeast Asia that it seems impossible to see all of it, even in a 6 month Southeast Asia itinerary!
We are Ready to Experience a Different Mode of Travel
We love camper life, and we’ve had a blast roaming around North America for the last two years. While North America has a ton to offer, we have seen many of the parts of this continent that were the most exciting to us.
We also love the idea of someone else flying/driving while we relax with a book and a beverage. We’ve covered over 20,000 miles on our travels, and honestly it’s time for a little break from all the driving! Backpacking through Asia will give us the chance to travel in a completely new way.
We want to Downsize Even More
The idea of heading across the world with nothing but a carry-on backpack is incredibly enticing to us. Tom and I have a saying we like to live by when we travel: “If you don’t have it you don’t need it.” Backpacking Southeast Asia feels like an awesome way to put this idea to the ultimate test.
We’re going to take you along with us step by step as we prepare for this journey, and our first challenge is fitting everything we need for 6 months of travel into two carry-on backpacks!
Southeast Asia Backpacking Route
Without further ado, here is our tentative plan for traveling Southeast Asia. This will likely change once we’re on the road because we prefer to remain flexible when we travel. We will keep you updated on any changes we make to our Southeast Asia trip itinerary (and why we make them).
North/ Central Thailand
We flew into Bangkok in late November and spent our first month in Southeast Asia exploring Koh Chang, Chiang Mai, Pai, and Chiang Rai.
We took the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and wrote a complete guide to taking the sleeper train! In Chiang Mai I experienced my first serious travel meltdown caused by burnout and culture shock.
After Chiang Mai we spent a week in the hippie jungle oasis of Pai. We loved Pai, as it totally fit our laid back travel style, and we would have stayed longer but our one month visa exemption was running out fast so we had to skidaddle to the Laos border!
We took the bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, and that was a bit confusing so if you’d like to do the same check out our blog post detailing how we did it.
There is SO much to see and do in North/ Central Thailand, and our month there flew by! We returned to Thailand for the final two months of our trip (scroll down to read more about Southern Thailand), and our favorite islands were Koh Kradan, Koh Mook, and Koh Ngai. We highly recommend you visit these very special islands.
We spent a month exploring Laos, and it was everything we dreamed it would be. Warm locals, beautiful natural scenery, and a generally laid back pace made Laos a true pleasure to visit. Click here to visit our guide to backpacking Laos!
Our very favorite spot in Laos was the picturesque village of Muang Ngoi Neua. Located on the banks of the Nam Ou river north of Luang Prabang, and only reachable by boat, Muang Ngoi is the kind of place I dream of when I dream of travel. Read all about Muang Ngoi in our complete guide to the village.
After Laos we headed to Cambodia where we visited: Stung Treng, Banlung, Siem Reap, Battambang, and Kampot! Check out our Cambodia itinerary for 3 weeks in Cambodia!
The incredible ruins of Angkor Wat were the highlight of the trip, and we spent a whole week exploring them by bicycle! This was the VERY best way to see the temples while avoiding the crowds.
Overall we found Cambodia to be the most challenging country we visited. Due to the dark modern history of Cambodia it is a complicated place to visit.
Before traveling to Vietnam we read extremely mixed reviews of traveler’s experiences there. It seemed that many travelers absolutely love it or hate it.
So we were VERY pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in the LOVE it category! In fact, Vietnam was probably our favorite country in Southeast Asia. The Vietnamese people were absolutely lovely. Almost as soon as we set foot in the country we began making friends with the extremely friendly locals.
The incredible natural scenery throughout Vietnam made it an absolute paradise for nature-lovers like us. In our month in Vietnam we took boat rides down scenic rivers, explored underground rivers, went caving deep in the jungle, and lounged on a gorgeous beach!
Even the big cities in Vietnam were charming! So, if you happen to be debating whether to add Vietnam to your Southeast Asia travel itinerary- definitely do it!
Click here to read our full guide to Vietnam, including a travel itinerary for 1 month or less!
From Vietnam we flew back to Bangkok, and then took a short flight to Krabi. From the Krabi airport it is easy to catch a bus to the island of Koh Lanta.
We spent the next two weeks relaxing on the beaches of Koh Lanta. We also took a snorkeling trip from Koh Lanta that brought us to several awesome snorkeling spots.
After Koh Lanta we traveled to the islands of Koh Mook and Koh Kradan where we spent more time relaxing on beautiful beaches! Koh Kradan was an absolute paradise, but it is extremely remote, and really the only things to do are snorkel and lay on the beach (which was just perfect for us).
Next we traveled to the islands of Koh Phangan and Ko Samui. We strategically left Koh Phangan just in time for the famous full moon party. We have heard many troubling stories from other travelers who have attended the full moon party so we decided to skip it.
Finally, we took a boat/bus combination back to Bangkok where we spent the last week of our 6 month trip relaxing in a fancy hotel, and doing some last minute shopping before heading back to the states.
We spent hours and hours researching Southeast Asia for this trip, and found Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Budget guide to be absolutely invaluable.
Check out our Southeast Asia highlights video to see some of our favorite moments in 6 months of Southeast Asia travel!
If you’re considering your own Asian travel adventure be sure to get travel insurance before you leave! After researching a variety of companies we decided to use World Nomads Travel Insurance. Fill out the form below for a quick and easy quote from World Nomads.
For more detailed information on Southeast Asia check out this post where several top travel bloggers detail their favorite spots in Southeast Asia! We are going to travel with carry on backpacks only, check out this post where we discuss our packing list for 6 months in a carry on!
Interested in our previous travels? Read about our North American travels through Canada, Mexico, and the USA by camper.
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2 thoughts on “A Southeast Asia Backpacking Route”
What did you do with your dog on this trip? We will be starting our ‘campervan’ tour of North America this summer with a plan of going global in a year to 18 months and I’m concerned about travel for my pup. How did you manage?
Hi Carolyn! Sadly our dog passed away, and that was actually part of the motivation for taking this trip. We have friends who did a similar trip, and they left their dog with relatives while they were away.