Top Countries to Travel in Southeast Asia

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Dear Sole Sisters,

I'm planning a trip to Southeast Asia for mid-2015 and it's been overwhelming. I don't know where to start and which countries are worth visiting. I know you've traveled this route for 6 months a few years back and that's why I thought of emailing you. I only have 2 months on a limited budget, so please help me decide which countries I should visit and how long I should stay there.


Dear Patricia,

Thanks for your email. I can imagine myself in the same chair, looking at a map and thinking how small I was, and how huge the region was and how is it possible to navigate it all in 6 months?

But I was able to do it, and so will you. 

I won't be able to plan your itinerary for you. But I can try to help you out by ranking all the Southeast Asian countries I've visited and giving you an idea of what to expect in those places. Then maybe it can help you make a decision. Here are a few things I had in mind prior to the trip:

-I wanted to spend a maximum of 30 days in most countries (depending on visa restrictions).
-My budget was very tight so I chose to spend more time in less developed countries and I tried to avoid cities as much as possible.
-My travel style was slow backpacking in order to explore more on less money and meet a lot of people.

Southeast Asia - Singapore
Photo Credit: Eustaquio Santimano

9 Singapore

I knew Singapore would be an expensive country so I mainly used it as a hub for connecting flights as well as a respite from extreme backpacking conditions. Imagine spending many nights at train stations, bus stops and airports and showering in dirty public bathrooms. Then, just one flight later, being able to take a long, hot shower then crashing on a clean, comfortable bed with an actual mattress. You get the picture?

But Singapore surprised me because I did enjoy the few days that I spent there. There's shops, hawker food, museums and nightlife, of course. Here are 5 Things You Thought You Knew About Singapore.

Southeast Asia - Malaysia

8 Malaysia

I had booked a lot of flights via Kuala Lumpur so I had a lot of time to explore the city as well as Penang which is only 5 hours away by bus. West Malaysia would be a great place to start your Southeast Asian adventure because of its low cost airport hub and location. Plus, you can still enjoy most of the comforts that you have back home but in a totally unique setting. It has a great combination of night life, nature, cultural experiences and food.

Southeast Asia - Cambodia


The main motivation behind my trip to Cambodia was certainly Angkor Wat. I'd been dreaming of exploring the ancient ruins for so long. But I ended up a little disappointed. I didn't exactly achieve the spiritual epiphany I was hoping for. I ended up missing the sunset at Bantay Srei after a series of flat tires. I would recommend hiring a tuktuk instead of riding a bike around this enormous temple complex.  And if you want to know more, here's 5 Things They Don't Tell You About Angkor Wat.

Southeast Asia - Vietnam

6 Vietnam

My postcard idea of Vietnam is probably the same as yours: junk ships with delicate red masts against the bluegreen background of the bay and karsts. But my Halong Bay fantasy didn't live up to the experience because I found it to be very touristy. It was an important lesson because the country has so much more to offer than just one overrated tourist attraction. In fact, my favorite town in Vietnam was Hoi An, a destination that's not in our original route. I loved it for its beaches, colorful town and ancient ruins.

Southeast Asia - Thailand

5 Thailand 

When I think of Southeast Asia, Thailand always brings back great memories. I think about Khao San Road, the Songkran water festival and full moon parties. It's a backpacker haven mainly because of its central location. From here, it's easy to travel by land to other neighboring countries and still keep some kind of base. I always find myself coming back for the flavourful food, the friendly locals and the scenery. I also love it for its diversity- temples and mountains in the north and warm beaches in the south. 

Southeast Asia - Laos

4 Laos

I think I slept all my days away in hammock in Laos. It's a wonderful break from the hustle and bustle of Southeast Asian cities. Everything in this country is sloooow- in a wonderful way. You can take a slow boat on the Mekong river, sip a cup of coffee at a roadside cafe and simply disconnect from the modern world. Laos's charm is felt in its golden temples, waterfalls, the smile of its locals.

Southeast Asia - Indonesia

3 Indonesia

I think I spent more time in the water than on land in Indonesia. Bali boasts of some of the world's best surf spots and I was not disappointed. When the surf breaks in Bali got too crowded, I took a quick flight to Lombok where it's more quiet and laid back. While on land, I explored Ubud's rice paddies, vegetarian cafes and yoga shalas. And of course, who can resist the local markets where they sold bracelets, bags and sarongs to bring back home.

Southeast Asia - Myanmar

2 Myanmar

My trip to Myanmar came as a beautiful surprise. It was not on the original itinerary as the country was not yet fully open to tourists in 2011. But I met some Indonesian and German backpackers in Thailand who were headed there and I jumped at the opportunity to travel with a group.

It was just a mind-blowing, colorful, dream like experience. We traveled overland for about a month and saw golden temples, river villages, a parade of red robed monks, mountain villages and just raw, untouched landscapes. What I loved about Myanmar was its authenticity because at that time, it was still quite isolated from the outside world.

Southeast Asia - Philippines

1 Philippines

Call me biased but there really is no place like home. And that's why I consider my country as the best for travel in Southeast Asia.

What makes the Philippines stand out are the variety of activities that you can do against the backdrop of magnificent, natural landscapes. You can go spelunking in Sagada, surfing in Siargao or Baler, ziplining in Lake Sebudiving in Anilao, cliff jumping in Cebu, snorkeling in Palawan, biking in Batanes, and kiteboarding in Boracay, just to name a few.

Considering the diversity of the culture and landscape that it has to offer, it's surprising that it's still off the beaten path. A lot of travelers tend to avoid the Philippines because they feel that it's isolated and too intimidating with its 7,107 islands. But that's exactly why the Philippines should be your first stop in Asia.

If you want be far from home, yet still feel at home, this is where you should go.

Not convinced? Check out Sab's 10 Reasons Why Your Should Travel to the Philippines.

Last Minute Advice

So there you go Patricia, those are my top Southeast Asian Countries for Travel. This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide. But I've shared most of my experiences and preferences to help you decide where to go and how long you should stay. I did the Southeast Asian trip in 2011 but I've revisited Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines from 2013-2014. I wish I was able to visit East Timor and Brunei to add them to the list but I'll have to save those places for another time.

Timeline and Route

Since you only have 2 months to travel, I would suggest you choose only 4-6 countries and stay about 1-2 weeks in each. This works best especially if you plan to travel overland through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Another option is to just choose 2-3 countries like the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia and spend 2-3 weeks in each country.

And You're Off!

Southeast Asian dreamin',
Sole Sister Lois


Our ebook "Where Should I Go in Southeast Asia?" is now available! It contains additional information such as:

► Reasons why you should go to Southeast Asia

► Top countries in Southeast Asia with rankings, description, curated experiences and budget

► Personal recommendations of where to STAY, what to EAT and what to DO

► Suggested timeline, route, itinerary, budget and advice to help plan your trip

In collaboration with Marie Pottiez of Miles of Happiness, we've added:

► Travel sketches and images for each country that would make you pack your bags

► First of its kind, printable map of the Southeast Asia Loop to show insider routes, activities, detours and secret destinations

This is NOT the Ultimate Guide to Southeast Asia. It's a box filled with cherished memories, unexpected detours, and secret destinations. Every page is thoughtfully written and designed to induce wanderlust!

Now stop dreaming and start planning! Get your own copy of the ebook by clicking on the image below!


Are you traveling around Southeast Asia soon? What questions do you have that were not covered in the blog? Share them in the comments below.

Lois has traveled extensively and have lived in Asia, the United States, and Europe. She just recently got married and now has a baby girl. She is currently based in Europe trying to find a home base for her family. She is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of We Are Sole Sisters.

Get a FREE copy of the Sole Sister Guide to Planning an Epic Trip by subscribing to our newsletter. You can also hang out with us online on TwitterFacebook & Instagram.

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9 sole trails

  1. this is a great 'guide' for people like me who would like to travel solo! thanks!

  2. Gah! This just makes me want to get on a plane now!! What a great starting point for SE Asia research.

  3. Happy that you found this article helpful Odie! Happy travels!

  4. Book that flight Colleen! Thanks for reading!

  5. Hi!

    I've been reading your blog for the past year or so and I've been drooling over the beautiful places you girls have been. This year, I'll finally get the chance to try backpacking with my girl friends.

    We've booked our tickets to BKK and we're planning to cross to Cambodia. Can we ask you for a couple of suggestions on how big should are backpacks be and how many clothing items should we bring?

    These countries are almost the same as the Philippines in terms of weather, but we just wanted to be safe ;)

    Thank you for your help! And hopefully, we can meet each other in one of our adventures :)

  6. Thanks for following our adventures MJ! It depends on how long you're staying in those places. Here are some articles to help you:

    Enjoy your trip!

  7. Hi,
    Great articles on the top countries to visit South East Asia.
    Cheers, Jigme from the Kingdom of Bhutan

  8. You are not biased kabayan toto-o naman na maganda ang bansa natin daming magagandang tanawin, one of my favorite is Siargao, the ambience still looks virgin


  9. Proud to be a Filipino. It's more fun here in our Country
    lumina pagadian city


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