We’ve recently had a lot of friends start to plan trips to SEA, and we’ve loved sharing our experience with them. Most importantly we’ve really enjoyed helping them plan their trip. One of the most common questions we’ve had is “I have x amount of time, do you think I can do this?” Planning your time and what you want to see is important before setting off. We figured sharing our thought process and experience would be helpful to those planning their next trip! Keep reading to see how we planned, or scroll further down if you just want to check out our trip timeline for an idea of what you can accomplish in x amount of time.
In the beginning we carved out a chunk of time to travel, and a part of the world to visit. We decided we had four months (Sept to Christmas) and we wanted to see SEA. Then we went a little crazy and just listed all of the places we wanted to see. Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos quickly made the list, then we also decided to hop over to Australia and New Zealand since we were over there anyway. And if we were flying from Thailand to Australia, we may as well stop in Singapore on the way. Oh and Bali is close too, we heard that’s beautiful, let’s make a pit stop there. We made a wish list of every country we wanted to visit, and then all of the places within each country that we wanted to see.
It wasn’t until we presented our whole plan to Alex’s family that we realized we hadn’t compared the amount of places we wanted to see to the amount of days we had to see them. We quickly realized we had to cut down on places, unless we wanted to only stay in each place for one day (which is obviously unrealistic). We identified our top must see places, and then allotted a certain amount of time to each one, just to get a sense of how much time we would have. In no way did we strictly stick to this schedule when we got there, but there was always a guideline there so we knew if we were behind or ahead of schedule. For example, we were “on schedule” when we finished the Gibbon Experience, but ended up taking the overnight bus right after to Luang Prabang. That gained us an extra day, and we loved Luang Prabang so much we spent it there. We actually stayed an extra day, but while there we’d heard that Vang Vieng and Vientiane weren’t worth much time, so we would steal that day from one of those places. Our vague schedule allowed us to stay grounded and see everything we wanted to see, but in no means did we think about it everyday or let it hold us back.
That’s what seemed to work for us! Note that we were on a succinct schedule (about 4 months) and had a plans to see certain things. We met tons of people doing similar things, but others that were just going with the flow. They had no return date, and no real plan past the next couple of days. Depending on your budget and your time crunch, choose a plan that works for you!
Real Life Timeline
Below is the timeline of our trip. We both kept journals of our travels so this is completely accurate. Note that we were travelling relatively quickly from place to place. We wanted to see and experience as much as we could with the little time we had. We could’ve easily spent the 4 months just exploring one of these countries and enjoying it fully, but we wanted it all! Next time we go back we’ll spend more time in the places we loved. Enough with the prologue, here’s our timeline!
SouthEast Asia (Sept 4 – Nov 19 – 76 days)
If you plan on travelling to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia you’ll most likely do the classic SEA backpacker loop. Most backpackers start in Bangkok, the easiest city to fly into. From there it generally makes sense to go clockwise (Northern Thailand to Laos, to Vietnam to Cambodia, then to Southern Thailand). Once you’ve soaked in enough rays in the beaches of Southern Thailand, you can either make your way back to Bangkok to fly home, or continue on to Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.
Northern Thailand (Sept 4 – 14)
Tips – Though pretty much unavoidable, starting off our trip in Bangkok was a little startling; it’s not the most enjoyable place in Thailand. Hit the main attractions and try to head north or south right away. Chiang Mai was an awesome first destination, the Old City offered so many little markets, coffee shops and restaurants to explore. It’s an easy place to relax and experience some true Thai culture.
Laos (Sept 15 – 29)
- Sept 15 – Travel to Laos
- Spet 16 – 17 – Huay Xai/Gibbon Experience
- Sept 18 – 21 – Luang Prabang
- Sept 22 – Vang Vieng
- Sept 23 – Vientiane
- Sept 24 – Pakse
- Sept 25 – 28 – Si Phan Don
- Sept 29 – Pakse
Tips – We loved Laos, the people were very nice and the whole country had an awesome laid back vibe. The Gibbon Experience is a must if you’re travelling between Laos and Thailand, as the starting point of the experience (Huay Xai) is right on the border. Luang Prabang is an amazing town, and Si Phan Don is a chill backpacker’s paradise. Don’t plan on spending much time in Pakse or Vientiane.
Vietnam (Sept 30 – Oct 10)
- Sept 30 – Travel to Vietnam
- Oct 1 – Hué
- Oct 2 – 3 – Hoi An
- Oct 4 – 5 – Hanoi
- Oct 6 – 7 – Sapa
- Oct 8 – 9 – Ha Long Bay
- Oct 10 – 12 – Ho Chi Minh City
Tips – We travelled a rather unique route since we entered Vietnam from southern Laos, and ended up in Hué (in the middle of Vietnam). Hué wasn’t that exciting, though Hoi An is definitely worth the trip! Plan to spend more time in the north, Hanoi is an amazing, vibrant city and is the stepping stone to both Sapa and Ha Long Bay. We wish we could’ve stayed in Sapa longer, but we felt we got the full Ha Long Bay experience in our two day cruise.
Cambodia (Oct 13 – 23)
- Oct 13 – Travel to Cambodia
- Oct 14 – Phnom Penh
- Oct 15 – 16 – Sihanoukville
- Oct 17 – 18 – Koh Rong
- Oct 19 – Phnom Penh
- Oct 20 – 23 – Siem Reap/Angkor Temples
Tips – Cambodia really surprised us with how many attractions and awesome places it had. We mostly just went for the Angkor Temples, but Sihanoukville and Koh Rong were two of our favourite beach destinations on our trip. We were told Phnom Penh was boring, but the Royal Palace and Killing Fields were both interesting places to see. We did the Angkor Temples in 2 days, but these two days were both long 7-8 hour days walking around in the heat. Most people spread them over three days. Make sure to spend some time in Siem Reap as well and check out Pub Street!
Southern Thailand (Oct 24 – Nov 7)
- Oct 24 – Travel to Thailand
- Oct 25 – Bangkok
- Oct 26 – 28 – Koh Pha Ngan
- Oct 29 – Nov 1 – Koh Tao
- Nov 2 – Travel to Railay Beach
- Nov 3 – 5 – Railay Beach
- Nov 6 – 7 – Koh Phi Phi
Tips – Southern Thailand was the perfect, relaxing way to break up our whirlwind trip so far. The beaches are amazing and the island life is as chill as it gets. Try to spend as much time on Koh Tao as you can; it’s easily the best out of the three islands on the east coast. Get to Koh Pha Ngan a few days before the full moon party to find a good hostel, but take the first ferry out of there to recuperate on Koh Tao. Carve out some time to explore Railay Beach on the west coast as well to do some deep water soloing! Koh Phi Phi is the most developed island we visited in the south, and is oriented to more of a party backpacker scene.
Singapore (Nov 8 – 13)
Tips – You only need 2-3 days to see experience Singapore, it’s a pretty small and well developed city/island. We were trapped here for 6 days due to volcanic ash delaying our flight to Bali. The renowned Botanic Gardens, lovely Marina Bay and exciting Night Safari are worth checking out, but can easily be accomplished in two days. Top it off with a rooftop bar, but move on and experience the more meaningful parts of that side of the world! You and your wallet will thank us.
Indonesia (Nov 14 -19)
Tips – Our Indonesian excursion was severely limited by our delay in Singapore, so we only managed to check out Kuta and Gili Air. Both were great! We embraced the party vibe in Kuta, and the chill island vibe in Gili Air. We just wish we could’ve checked out the other Gili Islands and more of Bali while we were there!
Australia and New Zealand (Nov 20 – Dec 18 – 28 days)
The fact that we covered as much ground as we did in Australia and New Zealand was a little insane, we’d highly recommend giving yourself another week or so to cover our itinerary below (we wish we had!). Often when travelling Australia after SEA you’ll stick to the east coast, starting in Cairns (closest to SEA) and making your way down to Sydney or Melbourne. If you’re just tackling Australia alone, it may also make sense to fly into Sydney and reverse that route. New Zealand is separated into the North and South Island. We were maniacs and tackled both in 10 days, but in hindsight we should’ve stuck to one island for our short stay and seen more of it. We definitely don’t regret our final push through New Zealand however, it was a highlight of our whole trip!
Australia (Nov 20 – Dec 7)
- Nov 20 – Travel to Australia
- Nov 21 – 22 – Cairns
- Nov 23 – 24 – Airlie Beach
- Nov 25 – 27 – Hervey Bay/Fraser Island
- Nov 28 – Surfer’s Paradise
- Nov 29 – Dec 1 – Byron Bay
- Dec 2 – 5 – Sydney/Blue Mountains
- Dec 6 -7 – Melbourne
Tips – Our travel here was also shortened because of our delay in Singapore. We managed to squeeze everything in by booking our tours (Fraser Island and Whitsundays) right off the bat in Cairns so we could work the rest of our trip around them. That being said, the tours were amazing (especially Fraser Island with Cool Dingos) and Byron Bay and Sydney were also highlights. You can skip Surfer’s Paradise unless you have time and money to enjoy the party scene. The beaches are better for surfing and nicer for laying out in the sun in Byron Bay anyway.
New Zealand (Dec 8 – 18)
- Dec 8 – Travel to New Zealand
- Dec 9 – Hobbiton
- Dec 10 – Waitomo
- Dec 11 – Rotorua
- Dec 12 – 13 – Taupo
- Dec 14 – Picton/Nelson/Greymouth
- Dec 15 – West Coast Highway
- Dec 16 – Queenstown/Milford Sound
- Dec 17 – Christchurch
- Dec 18 – Travel home!
Tips – We could’ve spent 10 months in New Zealand, but we only had 10 days. Tackling both islands was a feat, and we spent a long time driving, but it was definitely worth it! The islands are so different, and it’s really cool that we were able to drive around the whole country in 10 days. Milford Sound is a must if you’re on South Island, and definitely look into the Super Charged Trilogy Package (Hobbiton, Waitomo Caves and Te Puia) if you’re in the north!
After typing that out, it’s amazing we were able to hit as many places as we did. Goes to show you what overnight buses and a good amount of energy can do! Again, we went into our trip knowing we’d hit a bunch of places, and not necessarily linger anywhere for too long. But how you do your trip is up to you!
Contact us with ANY questions you may have!