A perfect itinerary doesn’t exist, but an epic one can be experienced. There’s no such thing as a perfect itinerary when you’re immersed in a culture very new to you. There are places and things you wish to visit and try, but there are bumps on the road to consider.
Do you have the budget? How good are you with directions? What language do they speak? Are they friendly? Will locals show you the way? An epic trip starts the moment you realize that sometimes your perfect itinerary can go unexpectedly wrong.
Coursing through top spots in Southeast Asia can fill up your bubble of exploration, and all the best places can’t fit in a single article. And many times, you may want to travel to all destinations in a single day. But that’s not possible. We made an excellent way to chop up your 3 weeks in Southeast Asia itinerary in a smart way of planning to not overwhelm you.
IMPORTANT TIP: This is a long-form article, and there are 9 itineraries. I recommend you click the “Table of Contents” to make navigating easier. That will help you determine which part of the article is most interesting and helpful for your planning.
CREATING 3 WEEKS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA ITINERARY
There are about 11 countries in Southeast Asia, and each differs in geography, culture, and cuisine. The Philippines, for example, is the gateway to gems of white-sand beaches. After many years of being widely travelled, it is named The Land of Serenity and Bountiful Nature, Laos has many years of being widely travelled. That’s just two countries. I’ve listed some of the wondrous combinations of places to be in Southeast Asia.
Itinerary #1: Vietnam + Cambodia
Vietnam and Cambodia are neighbours and ideal for 3 weeks in Southeast Asia, and in fact, they border each other. However, they differ almost entirely. Stepping into Cambodia from Vietnam almost feels like you’ve been warped to the other side of the planet.
It’s advisable for travellers to multi-visit Vietnam and Cambodia together, given that both countries offer a wealth of natural and historic sites. Both countries are very touristy, but you can still see sites established way back in the 9th-15th century.
Khmer Empire sites and Angkor temples attract many tourists to Cambodia, considering it’s one of the world’s wonders and offers bricks and layers of the country’s stories. While Vietnam is basically the land of caves and, at the same time, the country in Southeast Asia with the most cable cars.
Aside from the vast history, famously known between the two countries is the enormous maze of rivers or the Mekong River.
MUST-READ: 3 weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia itinerary
North of Vietnam (Hanoi, Sa Pa, Halong) for 1 Week
Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, draws its complex cultural background from the French inquisition. You can still witness French infrastructures like century-old gothic churches and opera houses. What makes them unique is through time, French perceptions have gradually been infused with the rich culture of Southeast Asia.
Sa Pa, not far from the borders of China, is a sight that lies in the beautiful mountains of the northwest. And a great spot for tourists wanting to experience naturally preserved golden and green fields of rice terraces. You must spend at least 1 night in Sa Pa and do a rice field trek. You can also hike the highest point of Indochina – the Fansipan.
It’s also a must to experience the popularity of Halong Bay on your weekly journey. It surrounds the bay with fine sand beaches and emerald colours of water, perfect for overnight cruises.
MOVING AROUND: Arrive in Hanoi (Noi Ba International Airport) which is 1 hour from downtown Hanoi. It’s recommended to book an airport pickup instead of using a local taxi to avoid any taxi scam. You can also book a ride or taxi through the Grab app). You can take a night bus, minivan, or train from Hanoi to Sa Pa. But you have to go back to Hanoi and take a bus to Halong Bay
Central Vietnam (Hue, Hoi An, and Da Nang) for 5 days
Central Vietnam stands as the heart of Vietnam. It is packed with fantastic beaches and stunning national parks. If you still have the energy, consider walking around the streets of this well-preserved Ancient Town along the central coast.
On the other hand, Hue, Vietnam, is the house of tombs of ancient emperors. You can walk around the perfume pagoda, one of the waterways locals cherish. Exploring Princess Temple, Imperial Citadel, Thien Mu Pagoda, Alba Thanh Tan, and Royal Theatre has got to your itinerary when planning to visit Vietnam and Cambodia together.
Da Nang is a valuable trading port in Vietnam. Here rests the dragon bridge with its unique design and the best place to experience light shows, and as the lights turn out, the dragon breathes actual fire. It’s also a more metropolitan city with towering skyscrapers than Hoi An and Hue.
MOVING AROUND: Book a flight from Hanoi to Da Nang, the travel time is about 2 hours. You can take a bus from the airport to Da Nang or Hoi An or also arrange an airport pickup. Choose between these Da Nang and Hoi An as your base. These two places are very close to one another. From either city, you can reach Hue by bus or a private car.
Cambodia (Phnom Penh) for 2 Days
Phnom Penh is a hub for both the Khmer empire and French inquisitors. It is also one of the busiest capitals of Cambodia. The place is considered a Gem of Indochina because three rivers merge and pass through Phnom Penh. The city still receives a lot of commendations from tourists for its charm of numerous places to see.
You can stay for a while and mesmerize by the Royal Palace, Tuol Sleng, Wat Phnom, National Museums, Theatre Shows, and many more. Around the market are vendors selling hand-made and locally created crafts of carvings, paintings, silks, silver, gems, and antiques — a perfect spot to buy personal collections, key chains, souvenirs, and gifts.
MOVING AROUND: You can get to Phnom Penh by taking a flight from Da Nang. You can also travel on land by taking a train from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City then taking a 6-hour bus to Phnom Penh. But this will easily take 1-2 day travel time.
Siem Reap and Battambang for 5 Days
Siem Reap is the gateway to the magical and mesmerizing Angkor Wat of Cambodia. Angkor Wat is one of the most massive religious monuments in the world. The site has around 162 hectares, which can be tiring as you walk, duck, temple hop, and learn more about the ancient temple ruins.
Aside from Angkor Wat, Siem Reap extend its myriad culture to its night market, floating village, landmine museum, old market, Cambodian circus, and many more. Three days is enough time for you to cover Angkor temples and other attraction sites.
MOVING AROUND: The travel time between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is about 5-6 hours by bus for $10-$15.
Itinerary #2: Thailand + Cambodia
Thailand and Cambodia are also the right combinations of destinations for staying 3 weeks in Southeast Asia. They are both Buddhist kingdoms with extraordinary wonders. Thailand is in the northern part of Cambodia and can easily be traversed by air or crossed by land. Tourists may want to consider heading first to Thailand and end the trip on Cambodia’s cheaper and solid beach party vibes.
Thailand may be wealthier and more well-developed than Cambodia. Still, there is so much to experience, like the hidden culture of the Khmer Rouge and its dark ruling of the country. It’s also where you will see the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat.
MOVING AROUND: You will mostlikely arrive in Bangkok, however, I recommend you take a flight right away to Krabi/Phuket. You can explore Bangkok later before you go to Cambodia.
Krabi/Phuket for 4 Days
Krabi is a place perfect for making the 4th day out of 3 weeks in Southeast Asia. Krabi is also close to Phuket, which means you can pretty much explore both areas during your trip. It sprawls on a resort town near Andaman Coast. Imagine a place crowded not by people but by limestone karsts, islands, white sand, and mangrove forests, and it will make time fly.
Beach bumming, island hopping and snorkelling are some of the best things to do because Krabi offers countless islands. Rent a motorbike to move around the islands and do your own sightseeing.
You can instantly visit four islands named, Tup Island, Chicken Island, Poda Island, and Railay Phra Nang Cave and Beach, on a single boat trip. There are also underrated destinations in Krabi, naming a few, Emerald pool, Pa Phru Tha Pom Khlong Song Nam (Mangrove Reserve), and Khorana National Park.
Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai for 4 Days
Chiang Mai is a city on the high side of northern Thailand. Being at the top of the mountains emerged the independent kingdom of Lanna until 1558. Here you can witness the Doi Suthep, a hill with an incredible overview of the city. Surrounding the area is the 13th-century temples and the birthplace of the elephant shrine.
You can also visit Doi Inthanon National Park, which is the highest mountain in Thailand. The Mae Ping River is also where tourists can enjoy a boat trip that heads to traditional teak houses, rural greeneries, and a meadow of jasmine rice. You can also stop and take a swim in their very own Grand Canyon.
Moving around: There are direct flights from Phuket/Krabi to Chiang Mai. The flight time is about 2 hours. You can take a bus as well, but that will nearly be around 24 hours.
Bangkok for 3 Days
Bangkok attracts millions of tourists each year and garners the reputation of being a city with a culture that meets modernity. Lively nightlife is what usually comes to our minds when Bangkok is in question.
Tourists also come and go to experience their large floating and night markets. They are also proud of the architecture of the Temple of Dawn and The Grand Palace. Plus, cruise your night on the Chao Phraya River – the city’s lifeline.
MOVING AROUND: The bus between Chiang Mai and Bangkok will take around 9-10 hours. Plan to travel overnight to save time. You can also take a direct flight instead, which is affordable and more convinient. Another option is by train, but it’s no cheaper than flying.
Siem Reap (Cambodia) for 3 Days
Three days is good enough to drench yourself with the wonders of Angkor Watt and bizarre places like the Bayon and its smiling faces. You can also visit the 10th-century Cambodian temple made for the God Shiva. It is also good to make a side trip to the temples overgrown with trees (Ta Prohm Temple).
If you want more adventure, consider renting a bike and making your way to the Tomb Raider temple. Some also suggest going around 4 pm to witness the sunset from Phnom Bakheng.
MOVING AROUND: You can take a 6 to 7-hour sleeper bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap for $40. A direct flight is only an hour trip and usually costs $100-$140.
Phnom Penh for 2 Days
Phnom Penh will take you to the Royal Palace, the landmark of the hustling capital city of Cambodia. The city is glorious for its harrowing tourist sites, such as the killing fields of Choeung Ek, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, and Throne Hall.
Phnom Penh is also famous for travellers with a touch of artisans. There are many galleries like Kbach Arts, Long After Dark, House of Scott, Ambre, Artisans Angkor, and Ramayana Mural.
MOVING AROUND: The bus travel time between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is a 5-6 hours. There are also direct flights which will only take an hour.
Sihanoukville and Koh Rong for 4 Days
After Phnom Penh, you can head over the coasts of Sihanoukville. They are known for tourists wanting to have the perfect ending to a trip. Here you can chill and rest on numerous beach resorts and island hopping. Sihanoukville is also known as the jumping point for the island of Koh Rong.
Koh Rong is an island with a dense jungle with all the definitions of perfect island life. The island itself has a tremendous amount of palm trees and decent number of waterfalls. Long are the days that you get bored in Koh Rong. Today, many outdoor activities are emerging, including adventure parks, beach parties, snorkelling, diving, kayaking, and many more.
INFO: You can honestly skip out on Sihanoukville unless you like casinos. The beach here is not the best, although you have to get here to take a ferry to Koh Rong.
MOVING AROUND: Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville is only 4-5 hours on a bus. You will have to take a boat to get to Koh Rong. When you finish your trip, you will either have to make your way back to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap to take your flight to the next destination/back home.
ALSO CHECK: Our itinerary for 3 weeks in Thailand only
Itinerary #3: Thailand + Myanmar
There are thousands of reasons to explore Thailand, but adding Myanmar to your Southeast Asia destination can be as thrilling as ever. Myanmar is sheltering one of the most abundant archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. And when you’re coming from Thailand, you can take advantage of the border crossing with more relaxed visa restrictions.
Backpackers always trust Thailand to be a place that doesn’t falter when it comes to admiring and shocking tourists worldwide. There’s no doubt that once you’ve cruised on the River of Kings, haggle with the locals in the famous floating market and immerse yourself in cultural and Buddhist experiences.
Thailand Southern Island for 4 Days
You can choose between Phuket, Krabi, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao. and Koh Samui. All of these southern islands will bring your sandy white beaches, spectacular diving and snorkelling spots, and of course, fantastic parties.
Bangkok for 3 Days, Applying for a Visa to Myanmar
They say that Bangkok is a city where you never get tired of visiting. There are so many activities to do, and the city never sleeps! You can always find something new to do. It was one of the world’s most visited cities in 2018.
Bangkok dominates these recreational activities if you’re into shopping, street food tasting, embracing the culture, sightseeing, and nightlife. Some of Bangkok’s highlights are its floating market, the Reclining Buddha, Grand Palace, Chatuchak Market, Baiyoke Tower, and Wat Arun.
Before you start exploring this city, collect your documents and apply for a visa to Myanmar. Some nationalities may not need to do this, but it’s easy and pretty affordable if you do. It takes a few days to process; hence, you should start your application before heading to Myanmar, especially if you are planning to cross the land border. For those flying in, you can apply for the visa online.
Chiang Mai for 3 Days
If you’ve been exposed to the cities of Thailand for quite a while, you may want to consider heading to Chiang Mai, located on the steep side of the country. It’s a place of countless mountains and hill tribes with endless sceneries fantastic for travellers who love outdoor trekking, sightseeing, and embracing Thailand’s urbanity.
Through time, the evolution of Chiang Mai paved the way for such incredible architecture inspired by ancient temples and Buddhist culture. You can also visit Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Sing (Gold Temple), Doi Suthep, Pui National Park, Chiang Mai Zoo, Night Safari and Bazaar, and a lot more.
MOVING AROUND: You can book a 9-10 hours bus for $25, but it’s better to fly for $40. You have to pay an extra fee for your check-in bag if you book a budget airline tho. The travel time is 1 hour and 15 minutes. You can also take the train which is slower than the bus, but more comfortable.
Cross the border to Myanmar and Head to Yangon for 2 Days
From Chiang Mai, you should make your way to the Mae Sot border. Get your Thailand exit stamp, walk to the Myawaddy border, show your visa, fly out of Myanmar ticket, and get your entry stamp. Walk a little further until you reach the town/market. You should be able to find a bus that will take you to Yangon.
Yangon or Rangoon was Myanmar’s former capital. Today the capital city is called Naypyitaw, which is North of Yangon.
There are many things to do in Yangon, but first, get yourself a local sim card if you don’t have data for roaming. This will help you get around Myanmar a little easier.
While in Yangon, visit the Shwe Dagon Pagoda and experience Yangon Circular Railway, a train system that goes around the city. After a long day, head down to the market and try out some unique Burmese dishes.
MOVING AROUND: From Chiang Mai, head to either Mae Sai Border or Mae Sot (closer to Yangong) – both are 5 hours from Chiang Mai. You should be able to find a bus from city centre or ask your accommodation receptionist. These buses cannot be booked online and only goes a few times a day.
From the border, of Myawaddy, there should be a bus or minivan to Yangon, or you can take the minivan to Mawlamyine, then get on another van/bus to Yangon.
Most accommodations/transporation for Myanmar cannot be booked online. It’s an old school style of travel where you simply arrive and look for a place to stay.
Bagan for 2-3 Days
Bagan has this magnificent view that many travellers dream of exploring. Being one of the most preserved archaeological sites and a class of thousands of temples. Bagan is a protected site and requires entrance fees for non-citizens.
The tangerine sunset over Bagan has gone to bring more peace and love to each other. It’s maybe why crimes in Bagan are never unheard of and rare. Aside from marvellous temples and the remarkable sunset. You can also set off to Nan Paya, a shrine that was once used as a prison.
MOVING AROUND: There are plenty of buses from Yangong to Bagan. One thing to remember though, you might be asked to pay for your entrance fee while in the bus as it enters the protected area of Bagan. Keep your ticket, as this will be asked a few times whenever you enter a pagoda or temple around Bagan.
Kalaw for 1 Night
Personally, I didn’t have time to explore Kalaw. For many, this is the gateway to a great hike to Inle Lake. The famous trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake lasts about 3-4 days. I recommend you spend one night here to find the best-guided hike for you and prepare for a long trek ahead.
Your tour guide will manage the rest of your luggage, but before that, pack a piece of luggage that will be enough for you during the hike since you won’t see the rest of your stuff until you reach Inle Lake.
MOVING AROUND: from Bagan to Kalaw, you can take a bus or minivan, the travel time is around 6 hours.
Hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake and Exploring Inle Lake for 3-4 Days
The hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake can be reached within 3-4 days of transiting on foot. And it’s not that far, just kidding, it’s 61 km away! You may think that it’s not possible or only soldiers can make the trail, but trust me, it’s one of the unique culture enlightening multi-trek you’ve been longing for.
However, the good news is that the trek doesn’t have extreme altitude or extreme high-end trails to tackle. It’s a trek to the hilly countryside on a mud trail that takes you to bamboo forests, orange plantations, tea bushes, and hill tribes, where you can spend the night with fellow hikers. You’ll also get to enjoy and embrace the vibes of the village people and the simplicity of their lives and enjoy local dishes.
MOVING AROUND: Take a bus back to Yangon from Inle Lake if you need to catch an internatinal flight out of Myanmar. You can also take a bus back to the border if you want to cross back to Thailand by bus.
Itinerary #4: Philippines
3 weeks in Southeast Asia itinerary is not complete without visiting the magnificent islands that make up the Philippines. With 7,000+ islands and mountainous regions, you can enjoy high mountains and sunny beaches. >>Related post: 3 weeks in the Philippines itinerary
Manila for 1 night
For foreign travellers wishing to travel to the Philippines, you should make Manila a transit hub. Manila may strike you with disappointments; it’s crowded, hot, and doesn’t have that much to offer to the tourist. Although it’s a bizarre journey, airports in Manila can take you to almost all of the places in the Philippines. This is also where you can get local currency and purchase a local sim card with mobile data.
As awful as it sounds, the Philippines doesn’t have the best design for transportation. If you plan to get from A to B, you will most likely connect in Manila if you don’t plan properly. This is why you should carefully write your 3 weeks in the Southeast Asia itinerary when exploring the Philippines.
MUST-READ: The first thing you should do is to choose between exploring the country’s mountains where you can hike or head down to the south where you can soak up to its beaches and do some diving and boat tours. Below, you can see which one is more suitable for you.
Baguio, La Union, Sagada, Mount Pulag for 1 week
Baguio, La Union, Sagada, and Mount Pulag are the only place in the Philippines where you can experience cold temperatures throughout the day and are located in the northern part of the country. Baguio is an independent city prosperous with traditional arts. You can spend one day touring around Mines View, BenCab, Botanical Garden, Burnham Park, Diplomat Hotel, and The Mansion.
Mt. Pulag is the highest mountain in Luzon, and the summit can be reached in 4-7 hours. You’ll be mesmerized by the sea of clouds once on top. And if you are craving more tropical, going to La Union is the beachside of Luzon. If you’re not into hiking, you can skip Mt. Pulag, and if you’re not into surfing, you can cut off La Union.
Sagada, however, is a must destination to be when you’re already in the northern part of Luzon. If you’re the kind of traveller who loves traditional tattoos, lead yourself to Whang-Od, a 100-year-old headhunter, a famous traditional tattoo artist amongst local and international tourists.
MOVING AROUND: From Manila, you will be travelling by road most of the time to visit the northern part of the country. You will then make your way back to Manila to catch your flight to Indonesia which will cost around $70 for one-way.
The Visayas Trail (Cebu, Oslob Dumaguete, Siquijor, Panglao, Bohol) – 10 Days
The Visayas is a region that consists of seven large islands and hundreds of islets. This is a place where the gems of the Philippines are settled. From Manila, fly over to Cebu and be charmed by the Magellan’s Cross and Fort San Pedro. Once you’re in Cebu, direct flights to Oslob, Dumaguete, Siquijor, and Bohol.
Oslob is a perfect getaway for tourists wanting to swim with underwater creatures. From here, go to Bohol and admire the famous Chocolate Hills, Panglao Island, Hinagdanan Cave, and Alona Beach. And also, from Bohol, you can take a ferry heading to Siquijor. It’s one of the best islands of Visayas with barely touched natural attractions, waterfalls, beaches, caves, cave pools, butterfly sanctuaries, and beautiful white-sand beaches.
You can also fly to the province of Dumaguete and rush over and check out one of the active volcanoes of the Philippines, Mt. Kanlaon. Dumaguete is also famous for Siliman University- the oldest university in Asia, founded by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission of the USA.
MOVING AROUND: You can take a direct flight from Manila to either Cebu, Panglao, or Dumaguete and start your trip theere. You can also finish your trip in either of those cities and take a flight back to Manila to catch your plan to Indonesia.
Palawan or Siargao for 4 Days
You can also fly to Palawan or Siargao from Cebu and experience a world-class island beach on Kayangan Lake, Coron, El Nido, Port Barton, and tons more. Palawan is an island in the Philippines famous for its crystal-clear water and the underground river in Puerto Princesa. In 2012, the global community cast a vote and made Palawan the first place in the Philippines that garners the title of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
If you’re into surfing, Siargao can offer you Cloud 9 and Quicksilver, a tropical island paradise home for surfers. Meanwhile, you can always chill on this bizarre Naked Island, which got its name because there’s no shade once you get there, except only the exceptional white sand and crystalline water. You can’t escape from the bliss and extreme euphoria once you experience the numerous attractions in Siargao.
MOVING AROUND: There are direct flights from Manila to Palawan (either to Coron, El Nido, or Puerto Princesa) and Siargao. The travel time is between $100-$200 one-way.
Itinerary #5: Indonesia
Three weeks is never enough to take a trip and delve into all the 17,000 islands of Indonesia. However, I’ve listed places that demand to be travelled when planning to fulfil your vacation in this beautiful country. One should visit Indonesia, which includes its vast culture, exotic animals, and a bulk load of exciting experiences to offer. >> We have a specific 3 weeks in Indonesia itinerary
MUST-READ: Just like the Philippines, when visiting Indonesia, it’s best to focus your time to one region and make the most out of it. You should be able to find a flight out of Manila to Jakarta or Bali (Depansar).
Focus on Java Only for 10 days
Java is the heart of Indonesia, and three weeks itinerary will feel like just a couple of days. You’ll enjoy everything from the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the city of Surabaya, Borobudur Temple, Anyer, Candi Prambanan, Batu Karas, Bogor, and the seaside of Pangadaran.
And if you want more activities besides seeing antiquity, hike on Mount Bromo, Mount t Ljen, and visit waterfalls such as Baturaden.
Java is known to combine Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, and the Dutch East Indies. So, expect to see different characteristics of temples and diverse cultures. It’s also one of the most populated islands in Indonesia, but worry not, and there are plenty of places to crash.
From Surabaya, you can make your way to Mount Bromo, an active volcano. From here, you should be able to hike Mount Ijen as well.
MOVING AROUND: If you end up in East Java near Mount Ijen, you can take a bus to Bali Island, but also requires a boat transfer. If not, it’s best to take a domestic flight to Bali (Ngurah Rai International Airport DPS), the ticket will costs $40 or more depending on your luggage.
Bali Island and Lombok Island for 10 days
Meanwhile, Bali is an Island with underlying volcanic mountains, beaches, and coral reefs. They also have the best cliffside infinity pools overlooking the Indian Ocean. And also, these are the places you may want to visit on your 3-week itinerary; Gili Islands, Mrs Sippy, or the largest saltwater pool in Bali, Tanah Lot Temple, Kelly’s Warung, Tegenungan Waterfall, Bali Swing, Bingin Beach, and Nusa Penida.
Are 3 weeks Southeast Asia itinerary even justified without a visit to the famous island of Bali? And one of the most efficient ways to get to each corner of Bali is by renting a scooter. It is common transportation used by tourists to go wherever their heart desires.
Apart from heading to top destinations, you may also want to witness their culture naming a few; the Kecak Fire Dance, Canggu Foodie, Ubud Art Culture, and Puru Ulun Danu Bratan.
MOVING AROUND: There are a lot of boat tours and day trips from Bali to Lombok Island, but you can also get on a boat and stay in Lombok for a few days.
Itinerary #6: Malaysia + Singapore
These two countries are perfect for 3 weeks in Southeast Asia. They share a land border, and both the capital cities fly to Europe and even to North America directly. This means that you can fly into and leave the region back home much easier with fewer connecting flights to take.
Firstly, it’s always better to head first to Singapore and stay here for a while. You can visit Chinatown, Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Islands, Sentosa Island, and the Orchards. Once you’ve got enough of Singapore, take your journey to northern Malaysia (Langkawi) and eventually end up in Thailand if you still have more time.
It may take 5-7 hours of transit, and a train company runs between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. However, there is no point-to-point from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. So, expect train and bus hopping when crossing the borders.
>> CHECK OUT: 3 weeks in Malaysia and/or 2 weeks in Malaysia and Singapore
Singapore for 5 days
Singapore is a small country, yet it doesn’t stop visitors from anywhere in the world from visiting this place at least once in their lifetime. Most of Singapore’s top attractions rely on modern and futuristic architecture. The country also has one of the best public transportation in the region, making it so much easier to explore, and the locals communicate in English very well.
Spending 5 days in Singapore out of your 3 weeks in Southeast Asia is so much more than you need. But it will allow you to travel slowly and meet locals. If you would rather cut it down to 3 or 4 days, that works too, and you can add that extra day somewhere in Malaysia.
MOVING AROUND: You can get to Melaka (Malaysia) by crossing the land border between the two countries. The journey time is abour 3-4 hours on a bus.
Melaka (Malaysia) for 2 days
Melaka is a coastal town north of Singapore. It’s a city with well-preserved colonial architecture and spectacular places of worship for Christians, Catholics, and Muslims. The best way to travel around Melaka is by renting a push bike.
If you want to skip this city, you can simply book your bus directly to Kuala Lumpur or take direct flight. You can instead switch Melaka with a visit to Cameron Highlands if you like coffee, hiking, and tea.
Kuala Lumpur for 3 days
Kuala Lumpur (KL) is the capital of Malaysia. Famous for its skyscraper twin towers and fantastic shopping malls. It’s also home to the colourful stairs that lead to Batu Caves. KL has a great mini forest in the heart of the city, offering a nice spot if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
MOVING AROUND: From Melaka, you can get to KL via bus that travels for 2-3 hours. You can also rent a private car with a driver, the journey is only 2 hours. Geting around Kuala Lumpur, you can either take the reliable train and buses. You can also use ride-hailing apps such as Grab, inDriver, and MyCar.
Penang for 3 days
Penang is the food capital of Malaysia. Its diverse culture comes with incredibly diverse cuisine. You’ll see and taste dishes from China, Malay, South Asia, and other parts of East and Southeast Asia. Apart from mouthwatering dishes, Penang is also famous for its street art, which is in 3D.
The local government of Penang wanted to showcase its diversity not only through its food, architecture, and people but also through art. These paintings replicate the daily life in Penang and share it with its visitors.
MOVING AROUND: You can hop on a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Penang for $15-$25. You can also opt for taking the bus which is a 4-5 hours drive. But if you choose to visit Cameron Highlands, it’s 5-6 hours on a bus.
Langkawi for 3 days
You have seen the tall buildings and tasted the best dishes in Malaysia. It’s not time to see its beautiful beaches with affordable chocolate, alcohol, and accommodation.
Langkawi is a duty-free island in the north of Malaysia near the border with Thailand. Duty-free means all the international products sold here are at much more affordable prices. Compared to other parts of the country, alcohol is much cheaper here as well, and accommodation costs are more affordable.
MOVING AROUND: Getting to Langkaw from Penang is quite fun. You will have to take the ferry for 3 hours. You can also take a direct flight between these two islands. Once you arei n Langkawi, it’s best to rent a motorbike to chauffer yourself around.
Perhentian Islands for 4 days
Perhentian Islands is the main pride of Malaysia’s mainland regarding pristine beaches. This paradise has been famous amongst local and foreign visitors for decades now but has managed to stay “rural” in many ways. This destination is perfect if you’re looking for a low-key spot where you can simply enjoy the beach and water activities.
MOVING AROUND: Reaching Perhantian Islands is a bit more complicated. The easiest way to take a flight Kota Bharu or Terengganu from Langkawi (which connects either in Penang or KL). Then, you must take a minibus or minivan from the airpor to Besut. And finally, take a ferry to Perhentian Islands.
Itinerary #7: Vietnam + Laos
Vietnam with Laos itinerary is an excellent Indochina trip and 3 weeks in Southeast Asia destinations since they share a land border. Vietnam to Laos and vice versa can be travelled via land. Travelling through these two countries means you will do lots of fantastic hikes, visit pagodas, and learn about the culture and differences between the two places.
Vietnam is much more touristy than Laos. Many people go to Laos to enjoy its serenity. It’s the ideal destination if you want to be around nature but will find places to meet other travellers and share stories with them.
If you’re checking the Indochina map right now, Vietnam and Laos are near each other, but it can get exhausting once you make the trip. It’s either you fly or make it by bus. The drive takes around 27 hours, so prepare yourself physically and keep your patience intact. You can also cross the border with your motorbike (read below).
At the present moment, there are six border points, and each route has its unique policies. The chances of getting bored on the bus journey are high. It is advisable to bring something you’re comfortable doing just to pass the time. Roads can be bumpy, and most buses don’t have cushions, so bring your commuting gear with you.
MOVING AROUND: If you are travelling with a motorbike (let’s say you bought one in Vietnam for this trip), you can bring that to Laos. The borders you can check are Cha Lo Bordergate (near Dong Ha), La Lay Check Point (near Hue), and Bo Y Border Gate (near Pleiku). Not all borders will allow you to bring your motorbike, but the hotel you’re staying or people who work at hostels will know the most updated information).
The border in the northern part of Vietnam can be more confusing to cross and the journey is often longer due to crossing through the moutains.
Choose between North + Central Vietnam or Central + South Vietnam for 10 days
Take a look at our Itinerary #1. It has an intensive description of Vietnam that will help you decide which part you want to visit.
To give you a quick idea, the north of Vietnam is more traditional than the south. If you want to see Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sa Pa, and Ninh Binh, you definitely want to go to that region.
On the other hand, the south of Vietnam is known as the business region of the country, and the culture is a little more liberated compared to the north. The top destinations in the south are Ho Chi Minh City, Dalat, Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Mekong Delta, and Phu Quoc Island.
The Vietnam central region is an excellent choice for its hiking trails. Go to Phong Nha or explore the most extensive cave system in the world – Son Doong. The cities of Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang, and the famous Hai Van Pass are the must-see spots in this region.
MOVING AROUND: You will likely land in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. If you finish your Vietnam trip around the central region, you can either cross the border to Laos by bus or motorbike. You can check if there are flights from Da Nang to Vientiane or Pakse.
Vientiane (Laos) for 2 days
Vientiane is the capital of Laos, however, compared to its neighbouring capital city, it offers a more rural and scenic view. As you wander through Vientiane, you’ll notice how many buildings are designed with traditional architecture.
Of course, you will see modern buildings, but there are no towering skyscrapers in this Laotian city. Most buildings are low-rise which is usually developed as luxury hotels or shopping malls.
The city crawls with Buddhist temples, French colonial architecture, matched with slow-paced life. Laos generally doesn’t get as many tourists as the other Southeast Asian neighbours. Due to the lack of tourism presence, it’s the perfect place to go if you want to be close to nature, learn more about this quiet city, and find tranquillity.
Vang Vieng for 3 days
Love thrilling adventure? Vang Vieng is the place for you. Book a trip with tubing, zip lining, rock climbing, rapelling, and kayaking. This little town also has lots of caves which means you must do a caring experience where you can explore different caves with a knowledgeable tour guide.
Spend your last day relaxing. Vang Vieng is a laid-back destination where most people simply enjoy the scenery, good food, and quiet atmosphere that is now a rarity in Southeast Asia tourist trails.
MOVING AROUND: There are minivans you can take from Vientiane to Vang Vieng for only $11-$15. The travel time is around 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Luang Prabang for 3 days
Luang Prabang is a city in the north of Laos which is also the first major city you’ll see if you are crossing the land borders from Vietnam and Thailand. Luang Prabang is known for its lively nightmarkets, dazzled by unique and affordable handicraft products and traditional Laotian snacks and dishes.
If you’re a morning person, you’ll notice a daily routine of monks walking the streets to receive offerings and alms from the locals (although you are more than welcome to give as well). This is called alms giving ceremony, which the monks will take to the temple, offer a prayer to their ancestors, and give thanks for the blessings they received.
MOVING AROUND: There’s a train that you can take from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, the travel time will take abuot 2 hours nd costs $15 to $20 per preson. There’s also an option for a minivan, but it will over 6 hours.
Itinerary #8: Thailand + Laos – Hiking itinerary
Thailand and Laos are actually quite popular destinations to combine for 3 weeks in Southeast Asia. This trail is suitable if you love hiking because you can travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and then to Chiang Rai. From there, you can cross the border to Laos by land and boat.
Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are great hiking regions in Thailand, while Laos generally has many national biodiverse conservation areas and parks open for hiking.
Bangkok for 4 days
Four days in Bangkok is ideal. You can visit the must-see temples and pagodas, explore the floating market, and go on a food adventure. If you love parties, Khao San road is just around the corner. During this time, you can also use it to plan how you want to get to your next destination.
Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai for 5 days
Chaing Mai and Chiang Rai are both great locations for hiking. But both also offer incredible cultural and historical sites for you to explore. Spending five days between these two amazing cities will be filled with exploring nature and learning more about Thai culture.
The most popular hiking trails in Chiang Mai are Doi Inthanon, Mae Sa Valley, Mae Sa Valley, Mon Cham, and Doi Suthep (an easy hike). For Chiang Rai, you can check out Phu Chi Fa, Mae Salong, Doi Chang, Khun Korn Waterfall, Chiang Dao.
Most of these hikes can be done in just a day, so you can choose between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai as your base in northern Thailand. The tour agencies will offer pick up and drop off from your accommodation as well.
MOVING AROUND: You can reach Chiang Mai in three different ways; by bus, train, and by air. The bus will take a bit over 9 hours, and the train journey is about 10 hours. Flying will be fastest and most convinient.
Cross the border to Laos (Huay Xai)
Now that you are ready to say goodbye to Thailand, it’s time to cross the border between Thailand and Laos. This is a famous border crossing, so you should not have difficulty finding a bus that will take you to the border.
Although there is a bridge between the two countries, you cannot cross it on foot. You can either take a slow boat or book a car or bus that will take you through the border gate. Taking the slow boat means you need a service from Huay Xai (Laos) to take you to Luang Prabang or other destinations you have in mind.
The visa for Laos is easy. Everyone can pretty much get a visa on arrival, which means all you need to do is show your passport, pay, and get on your trip. If you have a Thai driver, they get a free visa to cross back and forth without trouble.
TIP: Change all your Thai Baht on this border since it will be useless (or hard to convert) once you cross the border to Laos.
Luang Prabang for 4 days
Luang Prabang is also known for its stunning scenery. There are densed forests surrounding the city highlighted with magnificent waterfalls. This is a fantastic destination if you want to do hiking, wild swimming, or anything related to outdoor activities and nature.
When it comes to hiking, the popular areas are Kuang Si Waterfall, Pak Ou Caves, Mount Phousi, Tad Sae Waterfall, Nam Khan River.
Apart from that, you’ll also get to enjoy some French colonial architecture which was influenced by French colonialism. The Royal Palace is a great example which is now open to the public as a museum where you can learn about the story of Laos while under the colony.
Vang Vieng for 3 days
If you have 3 weeks in Southeast Asia and enjoy exciting activities, then Vang Vieng is the place for you. Vang Vieng is a small town surrounded by towering karst mountains and lush jungles. This is a destination known as “adventure tourism” because you can do plenty of exciting excursions such as tubing, rock climbing, kayaking, caving, and zip-lining through the forest.
For hikers out there, make sure to explore Pha Ngeun Viewpoint, Blue Lagoon 3, Tham Jang Cave, Pha Poak Viewpoint, and Pha Thao Viewpoint.
Due to its affordability, it’s also right along the backpacker’s trail. when you get here, you’d be surprised at how many people simply come here to lie on the hammock, read a book, sleep while surrounded by chirping birds and trees.
MOVING AROUND: The best way to get to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang is by train. It’s only a 1 hour and 30 min to 2-hour trip. It’s the same cost as taking a 6-hour minivan which is around $20 per person.
Vientiane for 2 days
Spend your 2 days discovering hiking spots in Vientiante, which includes Chao Anouvong Park, Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area, Nam Ngum Reservoir, Buddha Park, and Pha That Luang.
If you’re not tired of visiting temples and pagodas yet, Vientiane has many of them, making Pha That Luang the most popular and must-be visited. For those looking to buy souvenirs, head to the night markets, where you can find vibrant options such as handicrafts and textiles at affordable prices.
You should also not miss your last chance to enjoy traditional Laotian dishes with a hint of French influence. There are cooking classes that you can sign up for, or simply join a food tour to learn more about Laotian cuisine.
Finish your trip to Vientiane, where an international airport is located. Although you can also cross the border to Thailand and head to Bangkok for more international flight options.
MOVING AROUND: You can take the train from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, the journey time is 2 hours for $15 or take a minivan for 2 hours and 30 minutes for $10.
Itinerary #9: Timor Leste + Brunei + Borneo
If you really want to max out your 3 weeks in Southeast Asia itinerary, Timor Leste, Brunei, and Borneo trio are the one for you. Timor Leste and Brunei are some of the most overlooked destinations in Southeast Asia. One of the reasons is that Timor Leste just gained independence in 2002.
Its geographical location is spread over four different seas. However, it begins to show tourism potential. And the remnants of the resistance to the Indonesian occupation have also attracted many travellers.
Borneo is a big island in the heart of Southeast Asia. It’s divided into three countries; Malaysia (northern region, Brunei, and Indonesia (southern region. It contains the oldest rainforest in the world, with 140 million years of existence. It’s a home for much-endangered wildlife, which appeals to many conservationists. It also opens the doors of interest in travelling to Brunei, with some of the best Islamic infrastructure and architecture.
Make sure to go to Sandakan, where you can see the unique proboscis monkeys. Northern Borneo is also where the national flower of Malaysia, called “rafflesia”, can be found. Go to Turtle Island in September/October, which is the hatching/freeing season of turtles.
MOVING AROUND: When it comes to Borneo, taking the bus is the main mode of transportation. There are also options to take a ferry such as between Labuan and Brunei. There are also flights you can take. Most are not direct flights and requires long connection though.
TOP THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA (by country)
This list of travel itineraries for 3 weeks in Southeast Asia is long enough that adding a mountainous list of must-do activities will be just too much. So below, I linked the separate itineraries per country to help you plan your trip better depending on the destination/s you have chosen.
- Timor Leste
SUMMARY OF 3 WEEKS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Southeast Asia consists of 11 countries, three weeks will never be enough to visit all its magnificent corners. However, it doesn’t mean you should not go and travel here just because you have a limited time. You can start by choosing two countries and splitting your time. Perhaps you’ll like it, and next time you come back, you will visit two different countries.
I hope you found this 3 weeks in Southeast Asia itinerary helpful. I know it’s a long article, but I really just want to give a few samples of how you can create your own itinerary and max out your visit.