Not all of us can go travelling for an indefinite period, despite what many travel bloggers tell us. A one month travel itinerary around Southeast Asia is a great way to squeeze in maximum travel in minimum time.
Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam make up the main destinations in the Southeast Asian trail, with their proximity perfect for a one month travel itinerary. But can you make travelling here worthwhile in one month?
You might be a teacher with a long summer holiday, or perhaps you’re between jobs. Or maybe you’ve just got a month free and you want to see the world! One month is the perfect amount of time to travel, especially around SEA (as it’s commonly called).
If you’re not the type who wants to sit by the pool for weeks at a time and you’re more into exploring then these simple itineraries will cover a variety of ground. From exotic to cultural, to party hot spots. The great thing about a month travelling in Asia is that you can cover a lot of ground and experience several different countries and cultures.
Most of these are designed for budget travellers looking for a fun way to explore the world, so we’re aiming for an outlay of around GB£1000 ish (approx US$1300) for your whole trip. You’ll be able to do this by staying in hostels, partying cheap (get takeout drinks and maybe one in the bar/club – or make rich friends), minimising your travel or buying tickets way in advance.
First of all we’ll take a quick look at each country and it’s main attractions and then suggest a few travel itineraries for you.
Oh… And don’t forget your travel insurance when going on your bucket list Southeast Asia trip! An essential purchase…
Getting around in Asia
In general, travelling around most Asian countries is affordable and efficient. Countries like Thailand and Malaysia have an excellent infrastructure of trains and buses. For budget airlines Air Asia, Tiger Air and the rest all offer dirt cheap fares.
As an example, travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok by air can cost you as little as $20 if booked in advance, with the flight taking just over 2 hours.
A bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap will cost you a similar price, in the region of $20-40, depending on when you book and with who. Definitely book flights in advance if you’re planning a one month travel itinerary in Southeast Asia… Buses and trains you should be able to reserve on arrival from local travel agents or the stations.
Less is more
Although it can be tempting to squeeze in as much as possible with a one month itinerary, this can be completely counterproductive to enjoying your break. Having done quite a few long term trips, I can suggest that if you’re gone for a month, pick two or three destinations – four at most, and take the time to enjoy them.
Ticking off all the bucket list sights is all well and good, but honestly, you don’t HAVE to go to Angkor Wat if you don’t want to. Don’t do it because you think you should, do it because you actually want to.
The Southeast Asian Countries
Although the Banana Pancake trail (as it has been called) is traditionally the stomping ground of gap year types, now you’ll find a range of people from all walks of life. Expats, glam travellers and the unwashed backpacker all find loads to do in Southeast Asia.
Kick off your trip in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur as these are often the cheapest cities to arrive into with a great choice of direct flights.
Visa: Most Western passport holders get 30 days on arrival for free.
There is plenty to do in Thailand for a month, but if you’re doing a southeast Asian tour there is a fairly standard route you can take.
You’ll do Bangkok in a day or two, but head out and explore the palaces at Ayutthaya before heading to Chiang Mai. The northern city is less hectic than the capital but still has the action packed nightlife and amazing cuisine. Hippy hangout Pai is also a great place to lose a few days.
Head south to the islands of Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan or Koh Samui to top up the tan and do the full moon party. Snorkelling and scuba diving is also the order of the day on the islands. Five days is a good amount of time to spend on the islands, but be warned! You’ll want to stay longer…
Thailand is easily a good place to spend a good month exploring, so if you really want to enjoy it, just take your time. You’ll thank yourself when you get home.
Main airports: Bangkok or Phuket
- The islands (Koh Phangan, Koh Phi Phi etc)
- Chiang Mai and the Golden Triangle
- The food!
Visa: You’ll need one before arrival or purchase at border towns. One month is $30, and you’ll need a passport photo.
Now one of the must visit destinations on the southeast Asian travel trail, Cambodia is almost like Thailand twenty years ago. Prices have been going up but travel around the country is still dirt cheap.
Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat complex are the highlights of a visit to Cambodia. Expect to spend at least two days tramping the temples of Angkor Wat – three for best effect. If you’re not too much of a temple type, skip town after day one and you’ll have done the essentials.
A stop around Tonle Sap lake, or a visit to Sihanoukville are also highly recommended. One, a sedate place of traditional subsistence living and the other a booming resort town and party hotspot. Take your pick.
Two weeks in Cambodia should allow you to cover the essentials.
Main airport: Phnom Penh (Capital) or Siam Riep (for Angkor Wat)
- Angkor Wat
- Tonle Sap Lake
- Genocide museums in Phnom Penh including the Killing Fields
- Sihanoukville beaches and jungles
Visa: $25 before you arrive.
Doing all of Vietnam in a month will be tricky, but if you have a two week itinerary definitely head to Halong Bay and take a cruise. The imposing limestone rocks that rise from the sea are an incredible sight and the whole area is one of those awesome must visit natural destinations.
Ho Chi Minh city is one of Asia’s most dynamic and exciting cities, with incredible street food, nightlife and culture. It’s become quite an expat haunt in recent years, with all the trappings of a modern cosmopolitan metropolis.
Hanoi, the capital, is more compact and traditional than it’s high rise sister in the south. Both cities offer opportunities for lakeside wandering and visits to temples and both involve traffic like you’ve never seen before. You’ve been warned.
If you have more time head inland to Sapa or further south, mountain town Da Lat. From Da Lat you can do some of the easy rider trails, which involve motorbike rides along wild mountain roads.
If you prefer beaches, make your way to Hoi An (get your custom made suit or clothes while you’re there), Nha Trang, Mui Ne or Da Nang.
Like Thailand, there is a lot to do in Vietnam. A month will probably barely cover it, although you can whizz through in two weeks or so.
Main airport: Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi (Capital)
- Halong Bay
- Hoi An for custom clothing
- Dalat for mountains and easy rider bike tours
- Pho (the national dish) and street food
Visa: Most Western passport holders get 90 days on arrival for free.
Peninsula Malaysia is packed full of beautiful colonial cities including Penang. The island city offers some of the best street food in Asia as well as opportunities for hill walking, beaching and cultural exploration.
For tropical beaches head to Langkawi or the Perhentian Islands, which offer those white sands and azure seas. Langkawi is more modern and resort filled, whereas the Perhentian Islands are more remote and undeveloped.
Borneo is where to head for jungle trekking and Orangutan spotting. From Kuching you’ll find options to explore this stunning island and get into the rainforest.
It’s easy to lose track of time in Malaysia, and visitors will also find it considerably cheaper than Thailand (as of 2019, the Baht is strong and your foreign currency won’t go as far as it used to). Two weeks will allow you to do the essentials, but a month in Malaysia would allow you to really enjoy it.
Main airports: Kuala Lumpur, Kuching and Penang.
- Orang utans in Borneo
- Colonial architecture and street food in Penang
- Langkawi for beaches
- Cosmopolitan KL
Visa: Most nationalities, including Brits, Europeans, Americans and Australians get 90 days free.
This buzzing city state is not the cheapest place to arrive, but it is an interesting place to explore for a few days. Changi Airport is regularly held up as an example of one of the world’s best, so if you’re flying out of here, you might want to arrive early.
Singapore city itself isn’t short of a few things to do. Go shopping on Orchard Road, explore the food courts and markets of Chinatown (including some of the world’s cheapest Michelin Starred meals), wander the futuristic Gardens by the Bay with their Avatar inspired mega trees, and enjoy the view of the city from the Marina Bay.
And, if you just want to put your feet up on the beach. Head to Sentosa Island, which is also rammed full of resorts for the kids (and big kids).
We’d recommend spending somewhere around 3 full days in Singapore, which should give you the full flavour of the city.
Main airport: Changi (frequently voted the world’s best)
- The Gardens by the Bay
- Sentosa Island
- Raffles Hotel
- Some of the world’s cheapest Michelin Star meals
Visa: Requirements vary, with UK citizens needing to get their visa in advance, or pay $35 on arrival. Many nationalities (especially Asian) do get free visa on arrival. Check before you fly.
The world’s largest island nation and the most populous Muslim country is hard to do in a month alone. Many visitors head to Bali and that is the extent of their Indonesia experience, but beyond Kuta and the surf paradise of Bali, there is so much more.
Jakarta, you can skip. Most people do.
Lombok is a great place to go if you’re trying to escape the tourist hoardes, with the Gili Islands (although Gili means island, so that’s island islands) some of the best places in the world to learn to dive.
Indonesia is huge and you’ll need more than a month to do it justice. If you’re just heading to Bali, then a couple of weeks exploring will be an incredible experience.
Main airport: Bali/Denpasar
- Uluwatu Temple in Bali
- Ubud in Bali
- Gili Islands diving and beaches
- Yogyakarta temples and gamelan music
Don’t forget your travel insurance!! You don’t want to get caught out when travelling around South Easy Asia…
Our Recommended One Month SEA Itineraries
1 – A bit of everything
It’s tricky cramming it all in, but if you’ve got 3 or 4 weeks, this is our recommended schedule, based on a return flight to Bangkok.
Arriving in BKK
Bangkok – 2 days while you acclimatise and check out Chinatown, Kao San Road and MBK Mall.
A week on the beach – 5 days
Take the train (or fly if you prefer) to Surat Thani or Krabi and head to the islands. Surat Thani is the base for boats to Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui.
Krabi is a base for Phi Phi and the surrounding islands.
Go snorkelling, top up your tan and party the night away for a week or so.
Jungle trekking – 2-3 days
Head to Khao Sok National Park for a couple of days trekking in the jungle. Ride an elephant, splash under waterfalls and paddle canoes along serene rivers and lakes. Don’t forget insect repellent
Penang – 3 days
Skip across the border to Georgetown in Malaysia. You can either fly from Phuket to Penang, or take the train which takes a little longer.
Not everyone loves Penang, but the best things about it are incredible food, a very cosmopolitan vibe, the street art and opportunities to explore the interior.
Choices, choices… 2-5 days
The Cameron Highlands are a nice detour from the hustle bustle of Penang. The area is best known for it’s tea plantations and can be reached in around 4 hours by bus from Penang.
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, Langkawi is just a short boat ride from Penang too. Think beach resorts and relaxation.
If your budget allows, I’d highly recommend jumping on a plane from Penang to Kuching on Borneo. You can then go and see the Orangutans. There are several nature reserves around the city which are perfect for spotting these gorgeous and endangered apes.
Singapore – 2 or 3 days
If you’ve found yourself still on peninsula Malaysia then head to Singapore for a couple of days of indulgence. If cities aren’t your thing then jump on a plane to Cambodia or Bali.
Cambodia/Bali – 1 week
Fly to Siem Reap to tick off the Angkor Wat complex (3 days) and maybe Tonle Sap for a few days, or fly to Bali to soak up the vibes (1 week minimum).
2 – Vietnam trail
Flying into Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, you’ll need to make the most of your visa, so explore Vietnam in depth.
HCMC – 2 days
This dynamic city has a lot going on, so spend a couple of days exploring.
Mui Ne – 3-4 days
Get your tan started in Mui Ne. This party and beach haunt is a popular with Saigonites and backpackers.
Dalat – 3-5 days
The mountain town of Dalat will let you cool off for a few days. Explore forests, waterfalls and colonial architecture. If you’re thinking of doing an Easy Rider tour to Nha Trang, book it here.
Nha Trang – 3-4 days
Get the swimsuit back out for some tanning and snorkelling – or scuba diving.
Hoi An – 3 days
Need some custom made clothing? This is the place to do it… The town is pretty cool too!
Halong Bay – 3 days
The spectacular limestone formations are an unmissable stop when touring Vietnam. Make sure to book your cruise before you arrive for the best price.
Hanoi – 2 days
You thought HCMC was chaotically busy? Wait til you get a load of this. Beautiful architecture and great street food mean a must stop off..
Sapa – 3-4 days
After the rush of the capital city, enjoy some rural idyll in beautiful Sapa.
Time left over?
Jump on a flight from Hanoi to Cambodia to do the Angkor Wat complex for 3 days. Then back to HCMC for your flight home…
And that is our very rough guide to getting the most out of a one month bucket list trip around south east Asia. Any suggestions of your own? Drop them in the comments and we might pop them in for a future edit of this article…
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