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How to Plan Your First Trip to Southeast Asia: 6 Easy Steps

How to Plan Your First Trip to Southeast Asia: 6 Easy Steps

By Ruby ZhaoUpdated Feb. 20, 2024

Longing for an exotic couple's/family vacation? A 10–30-day trip to Southeast Asia will fulfill your dreams for a tropical travel experience with its sunny beaches, verdant jungles, adorable elephants, charming old towns, dynamic metropolises, diverse tasty foods, traditional floating markets, and mysterious temple complexes.

Southeast Asia consists of 11 countries. They're conveniently connected to each other by 1–3-hour flights. More than 95% of couples and families choose to visit 2–3 SE Asian countries in one trip.

The five most popular destinations for the SE Asia first-timer are Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Indonesia (mainly Bali). For a deeper cultural exploration and a longer trip, Myanmar and Laos come onto the list most frequently.

Spend 5–10 minutes on the following 6 steps to get an instant overview of how to plan a worry-free trip to Southeast Asia.

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1. Choose Where to Go

Top Destinations in Southeast Asia and How Long to Spend

Among all our couples' and family clients' choices, the best-selling itineraries cover the Southeast Asia travel hubs of Thailand (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket / Koh Samui), Vietnam (Halong Bay, Hanoi, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh) and Cambodia (Angkor Wat). >>How to Plan a 3-Week Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam Tour

Bali in Indonesia, known locally as 'the Island of the Gods', is one of the best choices if you love the thought of sun-soaked beaches, volcano trekking, and scenic countryside with terraced rice fields.

Singapore, a clean and modern city, is one of the most family-friendly destinations in Southeast Asia. It is favored by families due to its arts, fashion, food, culture, and big-name events.

Luang Prabang in Laos and Bagan in Myanmar are favored choices for couples who love charming romantic old towns, fascinatingly-designed temples, and Buddhist culture.

1) Thailand: Temples, Elephants, Beaches

Thailand elephant experience

Thailand is the travel hub of Southeast Asia. Within its borders are sunny beaches, ornate temples, and lush national parks and jungles. There is so much to do in Thailand, whether you want to explore and have fun with kids, or enjoy romantic moments with your significant other.

Whether traveling as a family or couple, meeting elephants in a jungle, taking a Thai cooking class, and exploring Bangkok's classic temples, amazing food, and floating markets are all must-dos.

For your choice of islands, Koh Samui is more recommended for couples due to its quiet and romantic vibe. While Phuket is more suitable for families with kids, as it's known for its abundant water sports and activities.

Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai is definitely not to be missed, where you can see the romantic scene of countless flying lanterns released into the sky.

For a special experience, you could spend an amazing evening with your spouse/partner (and kids) in Kanchanaburi's floating house or a tree house in Khao Sok National Park.

2) Vietnam: Outdoor Adventures, Scenic Wonders, Countryside Relaxation

Halong Bay cruise Halong Bay Cruise

Hanoi and Hoi An represent traditional Vietnam, Halong Bay represents scenic Vietnam, while Ho Chi Minh epitomizes modern Vietnam with many great museums.

Hanoi is a must because of the incredible, buzzing Old Quarter, displaying history at every turn.

A luxury Halong Bay cruise is recommended for both couples and families. Spend 1–2 nights boating around the numerous islands and admiring the karst formations rising from the sea.

There are many exciting activities in Halong Bay, like kayaking, swimming, and cycling. If your plan to celebrate a big event, we can help arrange a more private cruise only for you as a couple or just your family members.

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam's most fashionable city, known for its amazing food, skyscrapers, and sleepless bars. It is also a must-visit for everyone with an interest in history due to its many museums!

After 2–3 hours' driving from Ho Chi Minh, you can transit from city's dynamism to the primitive simplicity of the Mekong Delta. Get to see how the local Vietnamese keep their traditional lifestyle: trading in the floating markets, making sugar in a family workshop, living in a boat house, etc.

Further reading: Itinerary options for 2 weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia

3) Cambodia: Culture Immersion

cambodia Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, without a doubt, is the biggest attraction in Cambodia. It is a place where children can experience the culture's charms as well as adults. It was once the capital of the Khmer kingdom — the most powerful in Southeast Asian history. There, you can walk through the ruins of once-glorious buildings and discover their history.

Further reading:

4) Bali: Luxury Beach Resorts

Bali Romantic Dinner with Sunset by the Sea

For those who like all the fun close together, Bali is a one-stop enjoyment island with incredible beach resorts, beautiful beaches, water sports, yoga, a wild nightlife, friendly people, and enough shops to shop until you drop.

It is one of the most popular destinations in SE Asia, and once you get there you will instantly understand why.

There you can embrace your loved one(s) in a cruise under the sunset, relax at a spa surrounded by nature, cycle through the rice terraces, take cooking classes, go on a volcano sunrise trek...

>>>Read about how to plan a trip to Thailand, Singapore and Bali

5) Singapore: Convenience, Quality, Universal Studios…

Singapore is extremely family friendly with its convenient amenities, widely-spoken English, various cuisines, Universal Studios, and big events, like the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix.

Tour recommendation: 13-Day Private Singapore and Bali Journey of Discovery

6) Laos: Slow-Paced Vibe, Buddhist Heritage

Laos Wat Xieng Thong

Heading somewhat off the Southeast Asia beaten track, Laos is a beautiful and tranquil nation offering UNESCO World Heritage sites, charming old towns, stunning natural scenery, tribal villages, diverse ethnic arts, adventure, outdoor activities, and amazing food.

Luang Prabang is its most popular destination as a result of the many beautiful historical sites, the unique surrounding scenery, the pure alms-giving ceremony, as well as its elephant sanctuary with well-preserved habitat.

Tour recommendation: 14-Day Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos Tour

7) Myanmar: A Romantic Way to See Temple Relics

Myanmar 

There's nothing more romantic in Myanmar than taking a hot air balloon ride in Bagan over 2,000 pagodas and temples to watch the sunrise from the sky.

Bagan is enthusiastically loved by photographers, couples, and people who are sympathetic to Buddhism.

Visit Bagan before it's overwhelmed by tourists!

Tour recommendation: 17-day Private tour to Myanmar, Vietnam, and Laos

2. Decide How Many Days to Stay

According to our data, most visitors spend 13–18 days on their first Southeast Asia trip to explore Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

1. 10–12 Days (time-efficient):

For a shorter excursion, focus on one country or a maximum of two to avoid the hassles of frequent hotel changes and rushing to airports. Consider popular combinations like Thailand and Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, Vietnam and Cambodia, or Singapore and Thailand.

With our expertly crafted itinerary, it is also possible to effortlessly visit three countries, such as our 12-Day Essential Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam Tour, which covers the highlights of these captivating destinations.

Here is a sample itinerary to visit Thailand and Cambodia (with the map below). 

Thailand and Cambodia tour map

2. 15–18 Days (for highlights):

With a bit more time, you can comfortably explore two or three countries. This allows for a deeper immersion into the local culture and a more relaxed pace. Consider combinations like Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, or select two among the three countries.

See our private tour 15-Day Best of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam Tour (with the map below).

Southeast Asia Tour Map

3. 20–30 Days (in-depth):

For an extended holiday, ranging from 20 to 30 days, you can embark on a thorough exploration of the entire peninsula. This duration is ideal for covering countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos. Devote time to immerse yourself in the unique offerings of each destination.

Get some inspiration from our crafted itinerary: 19-Day In-Depth Tour of Southeast Asia (with the map below).

Southeast Asia Tour Map

Suggested reading:

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3. Consider the Best Times to Travel

Enjoy beach time with kids

Lying within the tropics with southern areas very close to the equator, most of Southeast Asia is warm all year round.

  • Generally speaking, the best time to visit most places in Southeast Asia is from November to February when the weather is dry (driest) and warm (on average). One of the busiest times is around Christmas and New Year. Hotels in popular cities/islands and flights between popular destinations are likely to be sold out in advance. Be sure to plan and make reservations in advance.
  • Wet-season monsoon rains fall from June to October in most SE Asian countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar). The brief, intense rain showers during the wet season are unlikely to disrupt your plans.
  • April to May are the hottest months with daytime temperatures reaching 37–40°C (99–104°F).

However, Indonesia (Bali) and Singapore are exceptions.

  • The dry seasons in these two countries are from April to September.
  • The rainy season (usually downpours in the afternoon) falls from October to March.

The rainy season and the hottest months usually reward you with less crowding and the best deals for flights and hotels. Take your outdoor activities mainly in the morning time during the rainy season.

Check out more on our Best Times to Visit Southeast Asia.

4. Plan Your Budget

Traveling in Southeast Asia is way cheaper than in Europe and North America. A private tour in this region becomes an affordable indulgence, promising a luxurious experience without breaking the bank.

Hotels here won't break the bank. A 3-star hotel in Thailand is around 50-70 USD, and a 4-star one is 80-100 USD. Even luxury hotels cost as much as budget ones in the UK or US. You can go fancy or save big by staying in a hostel.

Eating is super affordable, thanks to awesome street food. Street vendors and small restaurants are cheap, and even fancy international meals in good restaurants won't cost more than a regular dinner in the UK or US. Imagine paying just 10 bucks for lunch and 20 to 50 USD for a nice dinner.

Activities are a steal too. Entry fees to temples and tourist spots are generally low, and adventurous experiences such as elephant trekking, snorkeling, and boat trips seldom exceed 20 USD.

Booking a trip to Thailand with Asia Highlights is excellent value for money!

In a region full of choices and potential tourist traps, we're here to reveal authentic Southeast Asia. Crafted by travel experts, our trips focus on culture, genuine experiences, and creating unforgettable memories together.

Costs vary with travel times. During the peak season, the cost for a private guided tour plus 4-star level hotels and flight connections within Southeast Asia normally ranges from US$200–250 per person per day. Kids under 10 get 30 to 50 percent off. Traveling in a bigger group or during shoulder season usually means less cost.

Book early (at least 3 months before departure) for better prices.

Southeast Tour Cost

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5. Transportation to/within Southeast Asia

Flights from major U.S. cities to Southeast Asia require transfers. It takes less time to transfer via Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, or Seoul.

As popular tourist destinations and large cities in Southeast Asia, Thailand's Bangkok and Vietnam's Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are usually visited as a first point of entry.

Air travel is the best way to travel between countries in Southeast Asia. Almost all capitals and popular tourist destinations have direct regional flights.

Booking a private tour with us, we will arrange your transportation within Southeast Asia. Our travel consultant will search the flight schedules, arrange the best connections, and book the air tickets.

6. Check Visa Requirements

Getting visas is generally an easy thing when touring Southeast Asia. Most countries offer visa-free entry, e-visas, or visas-on-arrival.

If you come from the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, or Switzerland, the following are available:

Destinations Visa
Thailand Visa-free entry for 30 days
Vietnam E-visa
Cambodia E-visa
Indonesia (Bali) Visa-free entry for at least 30 days
Singapore Visa-free entry for at least 30 days
Laos Visa On Arrival (Visa-free entry for Swiss)
Myanmar E-Visa

Tailor-Make Your Southeast Asia Tour with Us

A photo of our local guide and clients Our local guide and clients in Thailand

Our private tours are the hassle-free solution to making family/couple trip arrangements. You would have a one-to-one travel consultant that you can always contact to communicate your tour ideas whenever it is convenient for you.

We would design your itinerary based on your interests, hotel preferences, dietary considerations, and other requirements.

Why Travel with Asia Highlights (98.8% positive customer reviews among 10,000+)

  • Unique experiences tailored to your interests: Enjoy a premium trip that goes beyond the typical tourist attractions.
  • Hassle-free travel and peace of mind: Every aspect of your trip will be carefully planned and organized by your 1:1 travel consultant.
  • Experienced and knowledgeable guides: Your guides will be local and love to work for travelers' smiles.
Popular tours
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