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  • Writer's pictureDanae Bianco

3 week Southeast Asia itinerary

Updated: May 20

The best of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia for your first trip to Southeast Asia


praia paradisíaxa com água azul turquesa, na Tailandia, Tonsai Beach, Railay, Krabi

Tonsai Beach, Tailândia


I had been dreaming of visiting Southeast Asia for years but ended up putting it off for later for fear of taking the kids, still so young, to the other side of the globe, or due to pure lack of time and money.


But then in 2022 the opportunity finally arose and, after months of planning and planning and replanning, on Christmas Eve we left for Bangkok, for what turned out to be the most spectacular trip we have taken in recent years.


 

In this 3 week Southeast Asia itinerary you will find:

 

Other posts about traveling in Asia


 

HOW WE'VE DECIDED WHICH COUNTRIES TO VISIT


When planning the trip, our objective was to experience, in the short time we had available (3 weeks), the best of Southeast Asia.


We were a group of 7 people - 4 adults and 3 children - and we wanted to get in touch with culture, learn history, enjoy the beaches and have lots of fun, on a low to middle-range budget. It may seem difficult to please everyone, but I'm glad to say I managed to put together a itinerary that was perfect 💪🏻


I had already traveled through Southeast Asia in the 90s, backpacking on a very tight budget. On that trip, I spent most of the time in Indonesia, but I also visited Bangkok and Singapore. Indonesia was, thus, out of the plans for this visit (my unilateral decision, of course).


Thailand made it onto our itinerary (1) because Bangkok is the region's main hub – therefore simplifying the air logistics (and costs) of crossing the world with 2 children; and (2) the beaches are amazing (although there are plenty other beautiful ones in SE Asia). Cambodia was included in the itinerary because I'd always dreamed of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat (and thus I convinced the other adult members of the troupe). Laos, on the other hand, was included at the insistence of a great friend, who a few years ago spent months in the region and fell in love with this small landlocked country.


Vietnam? Philippines? And Indonesia, which is so beautiful, why not go back there after such a long time? Yes, these questions crossed our minds several times, and were asked by many people. Time is short, money is limited, choices must be made. If it all goes well, we'll be back many other times to South East Asia and we'll have plenty of time to explore every corner of this amazing part of the planet.



Luang Prabang vista do Monte Phousi em dia claro com muitas nuvens
Luang Prabang, Laos, Mounte Phousi view


HOW TO GET THERE (it involved 2 really long flights)


We are living in Brazil, so to go from South America to Southeast Asia there are two most common routes: connection in Europe or in the Middle East. We went via Emirates, with a connection in Dubai.


The flight from São Paulo to Dubai takes 14 hours and from there to Bangkok around 6 hours. Our waiting time in Dubai was around 4 hours, but this can vary as there are several daily flights between Dubai and Bangkok.


A 14-hour flight is not easy. Feels like it will never end. There's plenty of time to sleep, eat, watch 3 movies, read a book, walk 345 times on the hallway and still have the feeling that time has not passed. Jokes aside, it's important to have a strategy in place for all these hours tucked inside an airplane, especially if you (like us) are going to be squeezed in economy class. After that never-ender flight, the next one, Dubai-Bangkok, was fast and easy – in fact, I slept the whole time on that flight, both on the way out and on the way back.


In conclusion: Emirates is an excellent airline, the seats are comfortable (as far as possible, of course), the food was delicious, the in-flight entertainment perfect, and the price we paid for the flight was the cheapest among the alternatives available at the time.


Wat Arun, templo do amanhecer, Bangkok, Tailândia
Wat Arun Temple, Bangkok, Tailândia


3 WEEK SOUTHEAT ASIA ITINERARY OVERVIEW:


3 days in Bangkok

4 days in Railay Beach (Krabi)

4 days in Koh Samui


Praia paradisíaca com água turquesa e barquinhos na Tailândia, Railay Beach, Krabi
Railay Beach, Thailand


HOW TO GET AROUND


We did all internal sections by plane, with the exception of Railay to Koh Samui, which we did by bus and ferry with this company (Lomprayah).


Getting around in Bangkok: we stayed at Hotel Lotus Sukhumvit 33, close to a BTS (Sky train) station, we moved around city by SkyTrain or by van (with a hired tour)


Getting around in Siem Reap: Golden Temple Hotel was walking distance to the touristic center, so we did everything on foot and took a tuk-tuk when needed to go anywhere to far to go walking. We visited the temples with an organized tour.


Getting around in Luang Prabang: we chose a hotel - Villa Mahasok - that was a few blocks from the touristic area (and the night market), so we did everything on foot. The tour to Kuang Si Waterfall, Pak Ou Caves and Mekong River we did with an organized tour.


Getting around in Railay Beach: it's a tiny village, you can do absolutely everything on foot. Railay Phutawan Resort had the most amazing views and was a short walk from the main (and only) street in town.


Getting around Koh Samui: It is a relatively large island (contrary to what I naively had imagined). We rented a scooter to explore the island and couldn't even cover half of the road that surrounds the island. On the other days, we took boat trips that included hotel pick-up; close to Tembo Beach Club & Resort there were several options of restaurants, bars and markets, so either we walked or took a tuk-tuk if needed.


Check hotel availability and rates here:



Angkor Wat ao amanhecer, nascer do sol no templo de Angkor, Siem Reap, Camboja
Sunrise in Angkor Wat, Cambodia


HERE'S THE DETAILED ITINERARY OF (ALMOST) EVERYTHING WE DID


1st day - Arrive in Bangkok, settle in Hotel Lotus Sukhumvit 33 and explore the city.


2nd and 3rd days - Discover Bangkok: main temples (Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Temple of the Golden Buddha), Jim Thompson Museum, Khaosan Road. Enjoy late afternoon at one of the city's rooftops or at Asiatique. Stroll around in one or some of the city's many shopping malls. If you feel like it, do a day-tour to Ayutthaya - you can do it on your own or with an organized tour - we didn't do it this time, but I did it on my own (without google maps and without a cell phone) in the 90's and I loved it!


But, in case you have less time, you can do all the major attractions in just one day in Bangkok.


4th day – flight to Siem Reap (Cambodia), we flew AirAsia. Arrival at the Golden Temple Hotel (the best hotel of our entire trip!) and afternoon National Museum (we went by tuk-tuk)


5th and 6th day – 2 days are perfectly enough to visit the temples in the region – Angkor Wat is the biggest and best known of them, but there are dozens of other temples, equally beautiful and full of history.


7th to 9th daywe spent the New Year in Siem Reap and took the opportunity to rest a little. On those days, we took the tour to the floating villages on Lake Tonlé Sap, zip-lined, visited the city's markets and the National Museum, enjoyed the hotel pool, in short, full vacation mode activated.


10th day – flight to Luang Prabang (Laos), we flew Lao Airlines (there was a stop in Pakxe, where we did immigration and got our visa-on-arrival), check-in at the hotel and dinner in town.


11th to 13th dayexplore Luang Prabang and its surroundings: Kuang Si Waterfall, Pak Ou Caves, Mekong River boat trip sunset, city temples (Wat Mai, Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Manorom, Wat Sene, Wat Wisunarat and others), climb Mount Phousi and, if possible, enjoy the sunset there, Alms Giving Ceremony, National Museum and Haw Pha Bang Temple. Luang Prabang is a charming and pleasant city, with excellent restaurants and a great night market to buy handicrafts and souvenirs. We took a cooking course and watched some excellent traditional Lao storytelling theater (in English).


14th day – flight to the south of Thailand, we went by Thai Airlines – we took a flight to Phuket, because the times and connections were better, but the closest airport to our destination was Krabi. This day was spent in transfers, flights, airports, vans, boats and even a tractor. We arrived at Railay Beach at night and stayed at Railay Phutawan Resort.


15th to 17th day – Railay beach – have you ever dreamed of paradisiacal beaches, with incredible rock formations and crystal clear turquoise water? In Railay your dream will come true. Here we found the most beautiful beaches of the entire trip. One day we enjoyed the beaches of Railay, the other days we took boat trips to Hong Island and 4 Islands. Wish I could have stayed longer in Railay. You can do the same tours staying in Krabi, a bigger town with more accommodation options.


18th day – go to Koh Samui. It was the only stretch where we didn't take a plane. We went by bus and ferry. From Krabi, it was about 2 ½ hours by bus and 45 minutes by ferry, then plus 40 min taxi to Tembo Beach Club & Resort - it was a busy day, but it is not difficult at all to figure out how to get to Koh Samui.


19th to 21st day – Koh Samui. On the first day we took a boat trip to Ang Thong Marine National Park (the best tour in the area). You can do this tour on a speedboat or catamaran, we went by catamaran and it was delicious. On another day we took the tour to Ko Mat Sum (the “pig island”) and the next day we explored Koh Samui and its waterfalls by scooter.


22nd day – Flight back home. Leaving Koh Samui for the end was strategic as there is an airport on the island (which was actually very close to our hotel) with several daily flights to Bangkok (Bangkok Airways), which made the return back home trip really easier – it took us 3 flights and more than 34 hours of travel to get home.


Check hotels availability and rates here:



Pôr do sol no Rio Mekong, próximo a Luang Prabang, Laos
Mekong RIver sunset, Luang Prabang, Laos

WHAT WOULD I CHANGE IN THE ITINERARY


The trip was incredible and we loved everything, but saying that I wouldn't change anything isn't true, right?


So, if I were to redo this trip today, I would make these adjustments:


- exclude one (or maybe 2) day in Siem Reap and include them in Railay. Better rest on a paradisiacal beach, right?


I would seriously consider excluding Koh Samui from the itinerary. It's a beautiful island, and the trip to Ang Thong Marine Park is amazing, but after visiting Railay Beach, your standard for beach beauty will definitely change. You will never look at a beach the same way again. Perhaps it would be worth exploring more of the coast of the Andaman Sea, including other beach regions: Koh Lanta looks like a hidden paradise; Koh Lipe sounds amazing with its laid-back atmosphere; and the classic, unmissable Koh Phi Phi (although I have reservations about this one, as it is really overtouristed).


- As far as beaches are concerned, if you want to explore Cambodia further, the island of Koh Rong looks fantastic and not yet too devastated by the hordes of tourists that plague Thailand. Today I think that maybe we could have gone to that island, and excluded Koh Samui from the itinerary, but the logistics would have been much more complicated.


- If you find yourself with extra days to explore Thailand, there are numerous other fantastic destinations worth exploring. Chiang Mai is a must-visit, boasting a mountainous ambiance and some of the region's most stunning temples.



Ang Thong Marine Park, vista do mirante, montanhas verdes e água azul turquesa
Ang Thong Marine National Park, Thailand

MAP & ITINERARY


Here is the map of our trip in Google MyMaps, with our detailed route, just click and save it to your Google account. When you plan your next trip to Southeast Asia, you already know where to start ;-)


On the map you can see details of everything we did, where we stayed and the places we visited. There are different layers, with different colors, one for each area we visit.


In this post I explain how to plan a trip using Google MyMaps; it's an amazingresource for planning trips, saving places, calculating routes and distances, I really love to use Google MyMaps on my trips!



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