How to See the Best of Southeast Asia in 2 to 3 weeks

We’re marking the end of our four months in Southeast Asia, and we realize our incredible good fortune to have so much time to explore such a beautiful and interesting part of the world.  Yet we know this kind of timeframe is simply unrealistic for most people.  So we began asking ourselves:  if this were our annual 2-week vacation (and even that was stretching it at our old jobs!) and our one chance to see the best of Southeast Asia, how would we do it?

Saigon Lunch Lady - 2

First, you really need at least two weeks.  Flights over here are time-consuming and expensive.  One week just wouldn’t make any sense.

Halong Bay - 028

This two-week itinerary encompasses the highlights of Southeast Asia:  big, hectic cities, great food, ancient ruins, natural beauty and sun-drenched beaches.

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew

The Best of Southeast Asia in 2 Weeks

Day 1:  Travel Day (It took us almost exactly 24 hours to reach Bangkok from Atlanta)
Days 2-3: Bangkok, Thailand
Day 4:  Fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia
Day 5:  Temples of Angkor
Day 6-8: Hanoi, Vietnam
Days 9-10: Halong Bay, Vietnam
Days 11-14:  Thai beaches (flying into Phuket).   You don’t have to stay in Phuket.  We immensely enjoyed Khao Lak, about an hour’s drive from the airport.
Day 15: Travel day – fly home
Day 16:  Rest day at home

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Another week gets you some time in the mountains and an escape from big cities, along with a stop in one of our all time favorites:  Georgetown, Malaysia.  A three week itinerary (which we highly advise if you can swing it) might look something like this.

The Best of Southeast Asia in 3 Weeks

Day 1: Travel day
Days 2-3: Bangkok, Thailand
Days 4-6:  Chiang Mai or another mountain town in Northern Thailand (we liked Chiang Dao)
Day 7: Travel day to Siem Reap, Cambodia
Day 8: Temples of Angkor
Days 9-10: Hoi An, Vietnam
Days 11-12: Hanoi, Vietnam
Days 13-14: Halong Bay, Vietnam
Days 15-17: Georgetown, Malaysia
Days 18-21: Thai Beaches
Day 22:  Travel day – fly home
Day 23: Rest day at home

These itineraries all require lots of flying (no time for overland travel — we had great experiences on AirAsia for cheap short flights) and are the antithesis of our favored “slow travel.”  They also skip the beautiful country of Laos, though you could certainly sub-out the time in Vietnam for time in Luang Prabang.  Still, considering the limited time, we think these sample itineraries allow enough time to take in the best of each of these stops.  And we highly recommend some beach time at the end of any vacation this action packed!

JW Marriott Khao Lak

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