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How to Plan a Trip to Southeast Asia 2023/2024

How to Plan a Trip to Southeast Asia 2023/2024

By Ruby ZhaoUpdated Aug. 24, 2023

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.

1. Choose Where to Go

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.

If you are planning for your summer vacation to Southeast Asia, see our Travel to Southeast Asia in Summer 2023: Places to Go, Costs, Weather

1) Thailand: Vibrant Activities, Lantern Festival, 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 recommend 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.

The Best Southeast Asia Tour for First-timers

2) Vietnam: Outdoor Adventures, 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:

Quality Time Journey for Families

3) Cambodia: Culture Immersion

Cambodia Angkor Wat 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.

You can also explore more hidden ruins, appreciate the sunset with your love, and take a Khmer cooking class.

An ox cart ride or a quad adventure through the countryside could be a novel experience for kids.

4) Bali: Luxury Beach Resorts

Bali Nusa Dua Beach

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 more about planning a couple's trip to Southeast Asia>>>

Luxury Mekong Cruise between Vietnam and Cambodia

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

Further reading:

2. Decide How Many Days to Stay

Considering the long flight journey (often 20+ hours) from America or Europe and the masses of things to experience, most visitors spent 13–18 days exploring Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia for their first Southeast Asia trip.

With 10–12 days, you're suggested to focus on one country or a maximum of two countries to avoid the hassle of frequently changing hotels and rushing to airports. Thailand-Cambodia, Thailand-Vietnam, Vietnam-Cambodia, Vietnam-Laos, Singapore-Bali, Singapore-Thailand, etc. are all popular choices. You could also check options for 10 days in Southeast Asia, 2 weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia & 2 weeks in Thailand and Cambodia >>>

People traveling around Southeast Asia for 20–30 days are also common. Those who have plenty of holiday time usually plan a thorough exploration of the whole peninsula area (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos). Get some itinerary ideas about 3 weeks in Thailand and Cambodia, 4 weeks in Southeast Asia, 5 weeks in Southeast Asia & 6 weeks in Southeast Asia>>>

For more Southeast Asia itinerary suggestions, see our How Long to Spend in Southeast Asia (for First Timers): from 2 Weeks to 2 Months

Here are some itineraries for your inspiration:

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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 ahead and make reservations in advance. See the Ultimate Guide to Spending Christmas / New Year Holidays in Southeast Asia for more info. As for more weather details, read Southeast Asia Weather in December>>>
  • Wet-season monsoon rains fall from June to October in most SE Asian countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar).
  • April to May are the hottest months with daytime temperature 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 wettest months are December to February.

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.

Want to attend the romantic Loy Krathong festival in Thailand? Come to Chiang Mai on November.

Check out more on our Best Times to Visit Southeast Asia, Vietnam and Cambodia, and Thailand and Vietnam.

An In-Depth Experience of Southeast Asia at an Easy Pace

4. Plan Your Budget

The biggest chunk of the budget for an overseas travel goes firstly to transportation and secondly to accommodation: this is rigid and unlikely to be pruned away. This leaves the sightseeing part to your control when budgeting. How much you want to see, and therefore the number of days you stay, will determine the eventual cost of the trip.

With different travel times come different costs. 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.

For a private family trip with 2 adults and 2 kids, the cost for a 2-week trip in Southeast Asia covering 2–3 countries would be about 10,000 to 12,000 USD. International airfares are not included. Traveling in bigger group or during shoulder season usually means less cost.

Dining is pretty inexpensive: around 10 bucks for lunch per person and 20 to 50 USD for a nice dinner.

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

Southeast Tour Cost

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

For more visa information, see Asia/Southeast Visas: Exemptions, Requirements, How to Apply

Embark on an adventure across fascinating China, Laos, and Thailand:

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.
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