I booked our trip to Southeast Asia as a spur of the moment decision after feeling very bored with life one afternoon. While looking at flights, I saw some cheap flights from Melbourne to Da Nang. I didn’t even know where Da Nang was, but the sensible voice in my head disappeared for a minute and I spontaneously booked us a one way ticket. Then I thought to google Da Nang and found out it was in Vietnam – Awesome! Now all I had to do was find a way to tell Tom that I booked us a one way ticket to a place I knew nothing about.
Needless to say he wasn’t super thrilled. We later booked a flight home from Singapore for 6 weeks later. So there we were, with a ticket to Vietnam and a return flight from Singapore for 6 weeks later with only three nights accommodation booked in Hoi An.
We totally fell in love with South East Asia on this trip – from stunning beaches, to jungles and wildlife. Delicious food and unique cultures. I have put together a guide to the route we took and some highlights and tips for along the way. No links in this post are sponsored. They are just our recommendations from our trip.
Get comfy… it’s a long one.
*Side note – This itinerary is quite fluid. We designed it so that we could stay places longer if we loved them and move on quickly if we had had enough. I recommend minimum 5-7 weeks for this trip through South East Asia. You don’t want to travel too fast and spend more time on buses than at each stop.
Ultimate Six Week South East Asia Itinerary
Vietnam – Laos – Cambodia – Singapore
Day 1 // 3 nights
Hoi An, Vietnam
We started out trip flying in to Da Nang which is about the middle Vietnam on the coast. This is the main airport to get to Hoi An. We took a taxi from the Airport to our pre-booked accommodation which took about half an hour. Hoi An is a city on Vietnam’s central coast known for its well-preserved Ancient Town, cut through with canals. The former port city’s melting-pot history is reflected in its architecture, a mix of eras and styles from wooden Chinese shop houses and temples to colourful French colonial buildings, ornate Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge with its pagoda.
It’s easy to spend days exploring the ancient town, the tailors, markets and the delicious restaurants. From Hoi An we explored the My Son Champa ruins – as most things in this part of the world, get up early and do it before the heat of the midday sun strikes and get back in time for dinner – the city comes alive at night.
Accommodation: We stayed at River Suites Hoi An. We booked for 3 nights before we left Melbourne. Perfect location along the river and walking distance to everything.
Highlight: The food – Seriously Hoi An is a foodie heaven. Try to eat as much Vietnamese food as you can in Hoi An. We found an awesome café along the river down towards the market place that served the best spring roles ever! Also Pho for breakfast every day. Don’t be scared to try street Food. Its cheap and delicious.
Day 4 // 3 nights
Phong Nha Ke-Bang, Vietnam
From Hoi An we headed back to Da Nang and took the train to Dong Hoi which got us close to the Phong Nha National Park. The trains run along the coast between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi and is a really great way to travel cheap around Vietnam. You can buy tickets at the station or get your accommodation to organise in advance. We were lucky enough to get a 4 berth air con seats to ourselves for the trip which took around 4 hours. Phong Nha is a world away for the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s big cities. We immersed ourselves in the magic of remote rural Vietnam, between the coast and the mountains. This region of northern Central Vietnam is newly discovered by tourism, mainly due to the discovery of spectacular caves in the area.
Accommodation: We stayed at the Phong Nha Farmstay. The farm stay’s French colonial style accommodation opened in 2010, set in the rice paddies on the edge of the famous Phong Nha–Ke Bang National Park, just off the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It is the ideal base for wild adventures that you have only dreamed about… or simply take time to experience local village life or chill out in a hammock by the pool. We booked our epic caving adventures through the farm stay which you can read about here! We originally booked for 2 nights but stayed for 3 and I wish we could have stayed longer!
Highlight: The Paradise Cave was the highlight of the tour though – well Tom’s highlight, I preferred the Dark Cave. We did a full day 7km trek into the cave where members of the public aren’t allowed to go. We explored the spectacular cave formations in the darkness with just the light of our head torches. The cave is 100m wide and 150m high in sections. We swam through a section of the cave (you can take a boat if you can’t swim) before seeing more of this underground wonder and emerge in to the light of the doline chamber for lunch. We were lucky enough to see the sunbeams that penetrate the cave roof on a sunny day. It was absolutely magical.
Day 7 // 2 Nights
Reluctantly leaving Phong Nha we headed to Hanoi, the Capital of Vietnam. It’s a 4 hour or so train ride from Dong Hoi or a quick 45 minute flight depending on how much time you have. Hanoi was our first real experience of Vietnam’s cities. While we didn’t like how crowded and busy the city was I’m glad we spent a few days here. We learnt how to cross the road which was the scariest experience of the trip. You literally walk out in front of the 100’s of motorbikes racing down the road and keep walking at the same pass. The bikes go around you. For the love of god please don’t stop. Just close your eyes and go!
Here we ate the best Bahn Mi’s from the street vendor outside our hostel, visited museums and explored the city on foot. I learn a lot about the history of Vietnam and the war. Check out the Hoa Lo Prison, ironically nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by US POWs during the American War and take a walk around the Hoan Kiem Lake & Ngoc Son Temple which sits in the middle of the lake.
Accommodation: We stayed at Flipside Hostel in the Old Quarter. It was a great little hostel, clean, friendly staff and a free breakfast. If you are after a party hostel then I recommend the Vietnam Backpackers Hostel. Both hostels do great tours.
Highlight: I loved just exploring Hanoi on foot – once I mastered the art of crossing the road. It is a busy and sometimes dirty city. I wouldn’t recommend coming just to visit the city. But its a great base to travel into the north to the Hill tribes or out to Halong Bay.
Day 9 // 2 Nights
Halong Bay, Vietnam
We were up early to head over to the Vietnam backpackers hostel to jump on their Castaway Island Halong Bay Tour. You absolutely cannot come to Vietnam and not go to Halong Bay. It is a Natural Wonder of World for good reason. This trip was our couple of crazy party days. If you want a more relaxed Halong Bay experience there are plenty of operators that conduct tours. I highly recommend taking a minimum 1 night trip out. Halong bay is about 2 hours from Hanoi and transport is usually included with your tour group.
When your feet sink into that sand and you realise you’re surrounded by nothing but limestone karst cliffs and water, you’ll immediately feel at home. The 3 day, 2 night tour is more than just drinking and partying – though be prepared for a lot of that. There is also tubing and wakeboarding, rock climbing, kayaking, a full day boat cruise, swimming with bioluminescent plankton or hundreds of tiny jellyfish (can’t hurt you) I couldn’t recommend the tour enough.
From Halong Bay we traveled back to Hanoi and spent another night at Flipside Hostel before getting a plane to Luang Prabang, Laos. There is a bus that does the journey though it’s considerably cheaper, it is 30hrs long and all I’ve heard on the road are the horror stories from other backpackers. I guess you could put us in the ‘Glam-packer’ category. I’m happy to catch a bus, but the Hanoi-Luang Prabang bus was pushing it.
Want more on Vietnam? Check out my Vietnam Travel Guide!
Want a free South East Asia Packing List straight to your inbox?
Day 12 // 2 Nights
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang was my favourite stop in Laos. The ancient capital in northern Laos lies in a valley at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. Inhabited for thousands of years, it was the royal capital of the country until 1975. It’s known for its many Buddhist temples, including the gilded Wat Xieng Thong, dating to the 16th century, and Wat Mai, once the residence of the head of Laotian Buddhism. Laos is a lot quieter than Vietnam and is completely landlocked. While there might not be any beaches, there are some incredible swimming spots.
Luang Prabang is a Buddhist town and has an 11pm curfew, though not strictly enforced for foreigners. There are some secret nightlife spots in Luang Prabang if you know where to find them. I loved Luang Prabang. It’s a slow town which was a much needed respite after Hanoi. It’s great to watch the people go about their daily lives, see monks in training and appreciate the Laotian culture.
Accommodation: We stayed in a lovely place, Nocknoy Lanexang Guesthouse. You are spoilt for choice for Guesthouses here. Our was in a great location, 2 minute walk to the main part of town, couldn’t have had a better location. Breakfast was included and our room was clean and had aircon. They were super helpful with organising bikes during our stay.
Highlight: My favourite day was when Tom and I hired a motorbike and drove ourselves out to the Kuang Si Falls. I cannot recommend it higher. It was so beautiful and great for a swim. Cruising through the villages and the mountains to and from the falls was incredible and gave us a really great appreciation of Laos. It truly is a beautiful country. I also loved the after hours bowling alley.
Day 14 // 3 Nights
Vang Vieng, Laos
From Luang Prabang we took a 5 hour, 20 seater mini bus with 14 backpackers, 10 locals, 3 kids, 2 chickens, a rat and a bag of raw meat up and down windy mountains to Vang Vieng. Feeling a bit car sick, I opened the window to get some air. To which the driver yelled at me across the bus “close the window, the air con is on!” I don’t know what he was smoking but it was 12 million degrees on the bus. Definetely no aircon and my travel sickness wasn’t letting up so you cna imagine how that ended. While it definitely wasn’t the most comfortable bus ride of my life, the scenery was absolutely incredible. Vang Vieng is not the party place it used to be. But its great for eco-adventure tourism. There is a lot of mixed opinions about Vang Vieng. If you’re not sure, check out my post on whether it’s still worth visiting Vang Vieng.
Accommodation: After the bus ride from hell I was exhausted and not feeling great. So we decided to give the hostel a swap for a hotel. We stayed at Silver Naga Hotel which backed along the river and it was incredible. The pool was a great refuge from the afternoon heat and nothing could beat waking up and looking at the clouds rise over the Karst Mountains. Halong Bay on land.
Highlight: I can’t decided between hot air ballooning at sunrise through the clouds and mountains or visiting Blue lagoon. Both were spectacular. If hot air ballooning doesn’t fit in your budget I recommend hiring a bike and heading out to Blue lagoon. The minerals in the mountains turn it a spectacular colour.
Day 18 // 1 Nights
This may not please many people, but we hated Vientiane. We stayed at the hostel from hell here – Backpacker Garden Hostel. For the love of all that is holy please do not stay here. We got in and out of Vientiane as quickly as possible. We arrived by a much more pleasant mini bus ride and then book ourselves a flight to Pakse the first thing the next morning. Vientiane was a pretty boring city. We visited the night markets along the river which were pretty average. It may have been that we were tired and not interested that we didn’t have a great time. So I can’t really tell you too much about it. We just used it as a stepping stone to get ourselves down to the south of Laos.
Day 19 // 2 Nights
Because we rushed out of Vientiane as soon as possible we ended up with an extra night in Pakse. Pakse is a quiet town. Nothing too beautiful about it. But its a good spot to base yourself for trips to the 4000 island, the Bolaven Plateau, or in our case the Champasak Jungle.
Accommodation: After our nightmare hostel in Vientiane, we needed some good sleep and to chill out for a few days. Travelling as a couple can be stressful sometimes! We got the respite we needed at Athena Hotel. Great breakfast, pool, massages, really nice room, free & reliable WiFi.
Day 21 // 2 Nights
Tree Top Explorer, Laos
We spent the next two days on the Tree Top Explore Tour run by Green Discovery, an eco-tourism company in Laos. It was a completely incredible trip zip lining, rock climbing , trekking through a gorge in the jungle, sleeping in a tree house and showering in a waterfall. To save a thousand words on how awesome this trip was click the photo below to find out more. I cannot recommend enough. It was definitely the best thing we did in Laos. If you budget isn’t interested in tours then I suggest hiring a motorbike and heading out to the Bolavean Plateau or heading to the 4000 Thousand Island on the Mekong. It looks spectacular and I wish we got to go.
Want more on Laos? Check out my Laos Travel Guide!
Day 23 // 3 Nights
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tired and sore from our Tree Tops Tour we oped for a cheap flight from Pakse to Siem Reap. There is a bus that takes about 8-10 hours I believe overnight which is even cheaper. Siem Reap, in northwestern Cambodia, is the gateway to the ruins of Angkor, the seat of the Khmer kingdom from the 9th–15th centuries. Angkor’s vast complex of intricate stone buildings includes preserved Angkor Wat. Though there is more to Siem Reap than just temples. It is becoming more and more westernised, but we got out and rode quad bikes out to the local villages and learnt how the Khmer people live outside of the city.
Accommodation: We stayed at the Funky Flashpacker Hostel. We got a private room which was really nice with air con and ensuite for about $20 a night. The hostel has a pool with bar, a rooftop bar and a club. It was a really great hostel except it is loud all the time. If possible get a room away from the stairs.
Highlight: This is a tough one, we watched the sunrise at the Angkor Wat which was quite spectacular. My favourite Angkor temple was actually a tie between the Bayon and Ta Phrom, the Tomb Raider temple. I recommend if you want to do sunrise at the Angkor what that you buy your temple pass the day before. The ticket office opens only just before sunrise and there is hundreds of people there. The office is also still a 10-15 minute tuk tuk ride away from the actual Angkor Wat so you will miss sunrise if you try to buy your ticket the morning of.
Day 27 // 3 Nights
Koh Rong, Cambodia
We grabbed an overnight bus from Siem Reap to Shianoukville to get to Koh Rong, an island of the coast of southern Cambodia. The bus took about 8 hours all up but I think we slept most of the way. The buses in Cambodia are really cool with full on bunks with mattress, pillow and blankets. If you are travelling alone make sure you book the whole bunk or you may be spooning a local.
Koh Rong is probably the most laid back Island I’ve ever been too. This colourful place has no roads and is only accessible by boat. All the shop fronts and hotels open straight into the sand along the beach. Be careful here. If you order any happy pizza (or any other happy food), the green stuff is not oregano on top. If you have more time to spare a trip to Koh Rong Samloem which is close by.
Accommodation: We stayed 3 nights in the Treehouse bungalows. These must be pre booked and paid for on the mainland. They were very simple but ours opened up over the ocean which was incredible. If you are staying anywhere else on the island you can just organise when you arrive. No bookings required. Though be warned, all accommodation is very simple and not everywhere is clean. There is only generator power on the island as well which doesn’t run all day.
Highlight: While this was just an awesome spot to just relax and do nothing, we did do one boat trip which took us snorkelling, hand fishing off the side of the boat and swimming with the bioluminescent plankton which was really cool. Also recommend doing the walk across the island to the beautiful long beach.
Day 30// 2 Nights
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
We caught another night bus from Shianoukville to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s busy capital. On its walkable riverfront, lined with parks, restaurants and bars, are the ornate Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum, displaying artifacts from around the country. At the city’s heart is the massive, art deco Central Market.
Phnom Pehn was the only place if felt uncomfortable in on this trip. I was wearing clothes that covered me well. However, I still had eyes following me everywhere I went. I didn’t go anywhere without Tom and held on extra tight to my bag. I have left it on the itinerary though as it’s still worth the trip to see the S-21 Prison and Choeung Killing Fields.
Accommodation: We stayed at a small cheap hotel along the riverfront called Bougainvillier Hotel. It was nice and about $35 a night with breakfast included.
Highlight: Definitely the S-21 Prison and Choeung Killing Fields. Don’t miss it. Go early in the day to avoid the heat and the crowds. You can read more about this day here!
Want more? Check out my Cambodia Travel Guide!
Day 32/ 3 Nights
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
We caught a bus to Ho Chi Minh from Phnom Penh which took about 6 and a half hours. When we arrived at the border crossing though it was evening. The crossing was really easy as we already had a multiple entry Vietnam visa from the start of our trip. You do have to get out the bus and walk across the border but it was pretty simple. Just follow the directions. No bribes paid here.
Ho Chi Minh, formally known as Saigon is probably Vietnam’s biggest and hippest city. Now that we were used to the hustle and bustle of these Asian cities we enjoyed it a lot more than Hanoi and Vientiane. I was sick one day and missed out on doing the Cu Chi Tunnels. Tom did the tour and enjoyed it but said it was a lot about spreading propaganda. We visited the war museum which again was really interesting but also very one-sided. We explored the night markets and the pub street.
If we had more time I would have loved to head out to the Mekong Delta from here for a day or two.
Accommodation: We stayed at New Saigon Hostel 2 which is in the backpacker district. A little hard to find though down a small alleyway off the side of a small market. Don’t be fools like we were and pay a taxi driver to take you for a drive around the block just to drop you back opposite the bus station where your hostel is.
Highlight: Tom’s was the tunnels. Mine was the night markets. It’s all about compromise.
Day 35/ 5-7 Nights
Our flight home was from Singapore, so since it was our anniversary, we thought we would splurge. We luckily had a lot more money left than we thought we would as Singapore is much more expensive. If your budget wont stretch to fit Singapore I recommend Northern Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. Singapore is my favourite country. I have been 4 times now and it reminds me of an Asian Melbourne. For such a small place there is plenty to keep you busy. Tom being an animal lover we spent 2 days doing all 4 of Singapore’s world class zoo’s. We also went to Universal Studio’s and shopped on Orchard Road. There was so many things we missed that I would have loved to do including the Gardens by the Bay, Botanical Gardens, China Town & Little India.
*We have since been back to Singapore and ticked a few more of these of our list. Check them out here!
Accommodation: We spent the first two night at MET A Space Pod in Boat Quay. Great Hostel. Great Location. Was awesome to walk out the door and be on the river front surrounded by restaurants. Alcohol is expensive to Singapore so try to get to the backpacker bar below for happy hour. The hostel can also organise discount entry tickets for Singapore’s biggest attractions and there is also free breakfast! YAY.
Highlight: We also had two nights at the Marina Bay Sands to celebrate our anniversary which was the most incredible thing ever. Though we managed to spend $2000 in 2 days. Whoops. But definitely worth it. We ate, drank and relaxed, ready for our trip home. Perfect way to end our trip.
If you like this post on South East Asia or found it helpful please help spread the word and share it on Facebook 🙂