Elephants, Phuket

Backpacking Southeast Asia – Route & Itinerary

Our first unforgettable Southeast Asia trip started in Vietnam, taking us through Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan. However, we still have some serious unfinished business! We of course plan on going back soon to visit Indonesia, Philippines and China and it cannot come soon enough!

For now, we want to share with you our bespoke, customised travel route & itinerary for the countries we visited. After all, travel is so much easier when the nitty gritty part is done for you – unless you’re a control freak like us and love to (have to) plan it all yourself!

We’re excited to share our route, transport, hotels, things to do and some great photo spots with you so you don’t miss anything.

Below each location in this article you will find a “travel card”.

We took the time to create these travel cards for you to easily show you your transport options, with the cheapest, quickest and best routes between each destination! Save them, share them and make use of them 🙂

We have also spent a lot of time creating a bespoke Map on Google below, just for you guys! This is for the locations we’ve mentioned, with each one having it’s own pins.

See the key below, zoom in and browse!

Map, route, accommodation & attractions:

So, where do you want to go?

Vietnam

HanoiHa Long BayDa NangHoi An

Thailand

BangkokPhuketKoh PhanganKoh TaoAo Nang, KrabiKoh Lanta

Malaysia

PenangKuala Lumpur

Singapore

Singapore

To Vietnam!

Stop #1 – Hanoi

Old Quarter Hanoi – top 4 places to eat & drink

Best things to do in Hanoi

Train Street Hanoi – EASY way to find it

Accommodation

Our suggested hotel is the Little Hanoi Diamond, which was a lovely little stay right in the heart of the hustle and bustle – you can read full reviews about our Vietnam accommodation in our Vietnam cheap hotel guide.

Places of interest

Hanoi is by far in our top 2 favourite places in Southeast Asia – there are so many things to see, eat and see, the experience is like no other (honestly – it’s wonderfully crazy!).

You can read all about the Hanoi top spots in detail in our Hanoi post, but just to quickly name a few:


Stop #2 – Ha Long Bay

Accommodation

The Light Hotel was a lovely little hotel with everything you need, including a pool table! It’s a little out of the way, but the staff at reception are more than happy to help you book tours and taxis.

Places of interest

First on the list is of course the famous Ha Long Bay itself! The best way to see the bay is definitely a boat tour or overnight cruise, however, you can still see some great views from Bai Chay Beach or the Cable Car if you want to stay on the mainland.

There are some incredible locations on the day tours, however the one that stood out the most for us was Titov Island (Ti Top), so make sure this is included! I mean look at that view…

Sun World Ha Long Bay. A lovely day out in an amusement park with a huge cable car going along the coast, amazing for views of the bay!

Ti Top Island, Ha Long Bay
Ti Top Island

Stop #3 – Da Nang

Da Nang Guide – where to sleep, eat & visit

Accommodation

Hanami Hotel was by far the best one we stayed at in Vietnam, and even the whole of our trip for that matter. We really weren’t expecting such luxury (backpackers luxury…) for the cheap price that it was!

Places of interest

At the top of your list has got to be the Marble Mountains! Five mountains in the middle of the urban area of Da Nang, one of them being accessible to the public to climb. Full of stairs, shrines, caves and pagodas – truly stunning and perfect spot for sunset.

Next on your list, head out of an evening to the little Night Food Market, a lovely touch amongst the bigger restaurants and cafes. We had THE most amazing hot dogs here!

Despite only managing to drive past, we recommend a good look at the Dragon Bridge in Hoi An. It gets its name from the fact that, well…. the whole bridge looks like a real dragon! It even spits fire on a weekend, so get yourself down there and get some good photos for us!

Not forgetting probably one of the most iconic spots of Da Nang… My Khe Beach. Absolutely breath-taking. A huge stretch of white sand with peninsulas each end, covered with loungers, bars and even cute little thatched umbrellas! Grab a coconut and take in some rays.


Stop #4 – Hoi An

Accommodation

Hoi An Estuary Villa was by far the best hotel in Vietnam in terms of facilities. The pool was beautiful and had the sunshine on it right up until sunset. HUGE room and bed, which was also very comfy. Did I mention the free use of bicycles? Such a lovely touch, and the best way to get around Hoi An.

To top everything off, the hotel hosted a free lunch party by the pool for all of their guests, simply to wish them well on their travels. Such a kind and simple thing to do, which meant a lot to us but was probably hard work for them! They went above and beyond.

Places of interest

Hoi An old town has got to be top of the list, which is accessible by bicycle, however also super cheap to jump in a Grab taxi. See the town light up by night and buzz with laughter, drinks and celebrations. Take your spending money too, as the night market comes to life on a small island, accessible by bridge over the beautiful Thu Bon River.

For your dose of Asian history and Pagodas, you can’t miss visiting Phuc Kien Assembly Hall. A beautifully designed, elaborate 18th-century Chinese temple in the heart of the Old Town.


Stop #5 – Bangkok

Erawan National Park, Thailand – all you need to know

Accommodation

Hostel Jo at Asoke is a lovely, modern hostel which is quite budget in comparison to the Bangkok prices. As a couple, we paid a reasonable amount (£40-50 per night), and ended up with a whole 4 bed dorm to ourselves! Now, this wasn’t just because it wasn’t busy, as we booked a private room – just turns out it had 2 bunk beds in it, but we weren’t complaining… sometimes you need your own space when travelling!

Places of interest

Making it to the top of our list is the Sky Bar, the tallest open-air rooftop bar in the WORLD! Not great for the budget, as a trip to the top and 2 drinks cost us £40… oops. But personally for us, this wasn’t something to miss. Despite being on a couples budget, sometimes you have to experience things that make travelling worth while, and this was one of those things!

Next up, Terminal 21. A shoppers dream! This huge shopping mall isn’t just an ordinary shopping mall. It’s themed like an airport, with metal detectors on entry and staff dressed up as air-stewards. Each floor of the mall then has it’s own country theme, it’s fantastic! They’ve even got a British theme which made us feel right at home.

Who’s a fan of Unicorns? No? Well you certainly will be after visiting the Unicorn Cafe. People flock from all over wanting to jump into a unicorn onesie and eat their body weight in sugary, unicorny desserts. To top it off, the food is actually really, really good! My stomach may not have agreed with that, but I did not regret the waffles and ice cream, not one bit.

Not forgetting the history side of this big, beautiful city. Visit Wat Pho to see the huge, golden reclining Buddha, or the stunning Wat Arun. Stroll around the Grand Palace for some amazing Instagram worthy shots, or take a trip to the classic China Town.

Now Bangkok is a HUGE city and huge tourist spot, making it a bit tough on the old budget. So if you’re not a big city fan but still wanted to tick it off the list, and are looking for something cheap in the area, you should be super excited about what we’re about tell you.

Get your nature fix with a perfect trip to Erawan Falls in Erawan National Park. One of our favourite trips ever! We cannot recommend this place enough as it’s quite off grid, so we’re excited to get the word out about it. Comment below if you’ve ever been before! We’d love to know how many people have actually heard about this place.

We are just going to direct your straight to our Erawan Falls article, as this place needs to be heard about in detail! How does camping in the mountains by a river sound? You will absolutely love it, and buses can be taken straight from Bangkok.


Stop #6 – Phuket

Accommodation

New Patong Premier Resort – a life saver for us and the perfect hotel! Long story short, we had booked a different room elsewhere online which turned out to be NOTHING like the photos, not to mention the dusty, damp sheets, mould on the wall and the strong smell of must. Let’s just say we got out of there QUICK.

We walked over the road to the nearest place, which turned out to be the New Patong Premier Resort. We told them we need a budget room for a couple, and the lady was kind enough to let us see the room before we paid (we had trust issues by now lol!).

As we walked through the main foyer of the hotel we were blown away, will lovely little fountains, fish, greenery and a seating area with a bar. The hotel pool was right behind that too. We were hoping the room would reflect the quality of the downstairs, and we were relieved it did!

Lovely huge bed, clean sheets which smelled lovely. Quite a modern en-suite and even a desk and chair which is always a bonus. Stunning room, great staff and couldn’t be in a more perfect location for the beach, restaurants and clubs. And of course… the hotel had laundry service! Every backpackers dream.

Places of interest

At the top of our list has got to be an experience with Elephants! Now, this is quite a controversial subject, which is why we are only sharing what we believe and know to be the most ethical place to experience elephants (other than in the wild of course).

Personally, we visited the Phuket Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, which we did our research on and found it to be very ethical. The experience seems great at the time, and the elephants seemed very well looked after and mostly free to roam. We were only allowed to be with them for short spurts of time too, and despite hearing that bathing is unnatural for them, they seemed to absolutely love it!

Upon leaving, doubts started to arise. If we booked this experience for the afternoon, and there are also experiences in the morning, this means the elephants are on a tight schedule all day and probably every day. That didn’t sit right with us. Yes, the animals were saved from poachers, harm and starvation, being given a new lease of life – however, this still isn’t how their lives should be. They’re still being used for tourism.

We were then advised about a different, more ethical way to experience elephants in Asia. Conserve Natural Forests are located in Pai, Thailand, and aren’t a sanctuary as such. Their aims are forest conservation and animal preservation, with their elephant having 80,000 square meters to roam freely, hopefully building her up to roam free in the wild one day. You can get close, but not too close, and only she decides when she wants to be fed and if she wants to get in the water. This sounds pretty amazing to us, so if you want to experience elephants, please check these guys out!

If staying in the Patong area, the nightlife will definitely not disappoint. HUGE clubs? Yep. Burlesque dancers on tables? Standard. Live ping pong and sex shows? Obviously. Bangla Road is the place to be!

Karon beach is another great stop in Phuket, with stretches of white sand and bright blue, crystal clear water. You can relax on the beach or hike/drive up to the stunning viewpoint to gaze at the lush island surroundings.

A bit more south of the island, you’ll find the impressive white “Big Buddha”, standing 147ft tall! It looks truly incredible, so high up on a hill it has a beautiful sea-view backdrop.

For those thrill seekers out there, you have to check out Flying Hanuman! Several trails, courses, sky-walks and zip-lines through the jungle terrain. We didn’t get around to doing this but oh my… do we wish we did!

Phuket boasts some stunning beaches, and I mean STUNNING. To list a few, Patong, Ko He (Banana Beach), Surin, Hat Kata should be on your beach-crawl list. Or even boat over to Koh Racha Yai Island for an incredible day out.

Not feeling the beaches? How do monkeys sound? Head up to Monkey Hill Viewpoint for some awesome views and little monkeys in the process! Just keep hold of your hats and cameras…


Stop #7 – Koh Phangan

Accommodation

With all types of accommodation, we opted for the Bungalow with a terrace at the lovely little Suncliff Resort. Now this room in particular isn’t exactly 5 star, but on a budget this was a great experience pretty much in the jungle with monkeys flying past our window! We loved it SO much.

Stunning sea view and a great natural, jungle feel. As you can see, the pool is the perfect spot to be sipping a Chang beer watching the sun set.

Heading to the full moon party? This accommodation is just a short 5 minute walk to Haad Rin Beach, with plenty of restaurants and bars in the area.

Places of interest

Of course… the full moon party if you’re lucky enough to be here at that time! We suggest even arranging your trip around the full moon dates to experience this crazy night. Flame throwing, flaming limbo and skipping, plenty of drinks and several stages with blasting music!

Other than when the main parties are on, Koh Phangan can be pretty chill as well as the party hot spot. Explore some stunning beaches such as Mae Haad Beach and Haad Yuan Beach, as well as a trip to Than Sadet-Ko National Park for your dose of hiking and waterfalls.

Fancy something a little more adventurous? Go diving or kayak around Ang Thong Marine Park.


Stop #8 – Koh Tao

Accommodation

With a restaurant, swimming pool (with a swim-up bar!), diving pool and just a short walk to the beach, Pranee Amata is a great choice for staying in Koh Tao.

Our room was lovely and spacious with a sofa and desk, and a large open shower room. The views of palm trees to wake up to out the back window was also a great touch.

The staff were lovely and very helpful, so booking tours, excursions or diving is a breeze!

Places of interest

Koh Tao island is known as one of the best spots in Asia to go diving, for beginners or even for the more advanced. We took this opportunity to do just that… or should I say “I”. Luke didn’t quite make it into the water! We used a great company called Crystal Dive who were great, and would definitely recommend them to you guys.

John-Suwan Viewpoint is a must, taking you through a tough jungle train to the southernmost point of the island.

Koh Nang Yuan is also a great trip for hiking and more incredible viewpoints! This is a small island by itself just slightly north-west of the island, which can be accessed by boat and would make a great day trip, or even and overnight stay.

Lounge the day away on one of the islands most beautiful beaches, Sairee, Spiaggia Degli Squali and Ao Tanote.


Stop #9 – Ao Nang, Krabi

Accommodation

If you want to party, meet people, have drinks, BBQ’s and play drinking games – with epic sea views – then this place is going to be AMAZING.

Balcony Party Hostel is situated pretty much on the seafront, surrounded by bars, restaurants, shops and bar crawls. We were given a token on check-in for free BBQ food and a free shot for each night we spent there, I mean if that isn’t hospitality I don’t know what is…

The amazing parties go on until the early hours, so I hope you aren’t a lightweight or plan on getting an early night. This being said, this place was epic to say the least! The perfect place to party into the night with fellow travellers from all over the globe.

Places of interest

The 4 islands tour is great way to get out there and explore what the beautiful coastline and ocean has to offer. Island hopping, beach chilling, cave exploring, kayaking and lots of seafood! We had a fantastic time and felt so exhilarating being out at sea, this is a must when you’re in the area.

Now, Railay Beach is one of the stops on the 4 islands tour mention above, however this was super busy and we could hardly walk along the beach to the cave!

The beach itself and surrounding areas are STUNNING, but we have listed this separate as we recommend doing a bit more research about this area and possibly visiting at a quiet time. You could always stay near Railay, hire a private boat, or there are regular boats that take people to the island from Ao Nang Beach.

Take a break from the island hopping and hike the incredible Tab Kak Hang Nak Nature Trail. Challenging, yet has the most rewarding views, known as one of Thailand’s most epic views! The hike leads you to the peak of Dragon Crest Mountain (Khuan Sai), and the views are MIND-BLOWING! Just check it out and see for yourself… there are also plenty of amazing videos on YouTube of the hike so check those out too!

It also sounds pretty hard to find, so have a look at Wild and Away’s article on exactly how to find it.


Stop #10 – Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta – why you need to visit in 2019 (& why we picked it over Phi Phi)

Accommodation

Feeling at home while on the road can make such a difference to your journey, and the staff at Khum Laanta Resort did just that. Not only were the rooms well decorated and huge, the pool was right outside our front door! The beach only being a 2 minute walk directly from the rear of the resort, stretched with reggae and bamboo style restaurants and bars. This was by far one of our favourite beaches in Asia – THE best vibes!

The staff were so welcoming and friendly, even greeting us with the odd hug now and again. They went above and beyond and even sacrificed their personal kettle for us to use for Lemsip style stuff when Luke was ill. Breakfast was simple but very tasty and nothing was too much hassle – renting a scooter was a breeze and a must to explore the island properly.

Places of interest

Khlong Chak Waterfall makes it to the top of the list for us if you’re in Koh Lanta. Such an incredible experience, hiking a trail through the forest, walking through the river in shin-deep water, exploring caves on the way, being rewarded with the stunning Khlong Chak Waterfall to bathe in at the end!

Top tip: Flip flops are no good for this hike, hiking boots will be a bit too hot and heavy in the water (we learned the hard way), so if you have a pair of water shoes then this is your prime time to wear them! Our post about hiking waterfalls in Wales has lots of info and photos about the amazing water shoes we have!

Mu Ko Lanta National Park leads you to the Southern-most point of the island, where you can explore the beautiful (and quiet) beaches, check out the abandoned lighthouse and chill and an awesome little viewpoint for sunset.

If you’re an animal lover, then you will be pleased to know about the Lanta Animal Welfare centre. You can visit and volunteer here, which we have heard a lot of people doing and they loved it. It’s a great way to give back to the community and help build more love and support for the animals.

Kantiang Bay and Pra-Ae Beach (Long Beach) are among the several picturesque beaches that you can find on the island, but personally these two being the most beautiful, so check them out!

Sick of beaches? Get your adrenaline pumping by Kayaking around the stunning Ko Talabeng, a smaller island just off the North-West of Koh Lanta, full of small beaches and coves.


Stop #11 – Penang

Accommodation

Kuih Kapek Home-stay was the perfect, affordable place to stay as a couple. A private pod-like room in a garden, with enough privacy to forget you’re staying at someones home, yet with the perfect amount of interaction and advice from the owners to make your stay easy.

Places of interest

Take in the views over the city at the top of Penang Hill, a mountain top park with several activities, animals & restaurants. for a great day out. It can be reached by the funicular which takes you up to the sky-walk and the rest of the resort.

Kek Lok Si is yet another sensational temple, sitting at the top of a mountain. As you explore the grounds, you will find the impressive 7 tier pagoda, which is what makes it stand out from other temples. If that wasn’t enough, you make your way through the gardens and shrines to discover a 120ft bronze statue of Kuan Yin, it makes you wonder how people are even able to build these things! Super impressive.

Take a stroll along Gurney Drive promenade to find an abundance of hawker centres for your obligatory Asian street food! Along this stretch you will also find the Gurney Plaza, a dazzling shopping mall which not only has an abundance of shops, but also an AMAZING food court on the lower level, with everything you could think of! A little further down the road is where you will find the largest and most popular street food location, Gurney Drive Hawker Centre.

On the opposite side of the island compared to George Town, Penang National Park is another great outdoor or overnight activity, where you can expect plenty of walking trails, beaches, tree-top walks and bridges. The perfect place to get your nature fix in the big city. Read all about the experience over on Capture the Atlas!


Stop #12 – Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur Travel Itinerary

Accommodation

Residing in Kuala Lumpur for 3 weeks really did make it feel like home in the end. Being able to call Regalia Residence home too, really was amazing and we would recommend these apartments to anyone. They are great, simple and affordable apartments for backpackers, right in the heart of the city.

Each apartment is privately owned, so it’s a case of checking online through booking.com, hotel.com and Airbnb to find the perfect one for you. Personally, we found ours through Airbnb.

If having your own apartment on a backpackers budget isn’t enough, you can lap it up in the rooftop swimming pool, with panoramic views over the city. You can even spot the famous Petronas Towers from there!

Literally across the road you can find Sunway Putra, a fantastic shopping mall with everything you would need, including a cinema and fresh fruit and veg in the supermarket. Being able to cook in our own kitchen while travelling was such a luxury!

Places of interest

If you have to visit one place in Malaysia, it has to be the Batu Caves. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before with hundreds of multicoloured steps leading you into an old cave, filled with monkeys and shrines! It really is stunning at sunrise and is the perfect Instagram spot for sure.

Amongst the hustle and bustle in KL, you can find Bukit Tubur mountain just North on the outskirts. Never would we have guessed you can find a hike like this so close to the city, it’s so underrated and we suprisingly hardly see this place on social media?! The Dragon Back Trek can be done alone, but we definitely recommend booking a tour guide through Open Sky Unlimited, as this was pretty dangerous to say the least. The landscape and cityscape from above will blow your mind!

The famous Petronas Twin Towers are pretty mandatory to see, don’t you think? These iconic towers stand tall are known worldwide, but for us they are most recognisable from the movie Entrapment! Read more about visiting the Petronas Towers in our Kuala Lumpur Guide, along with visiting the beautiful KL Forest Eco Park, the KL Tower, Sculpture Gardens and KL Bird Park (the biggest bird aviary in the world!).


Stop #13 – Singapore

Accommodation

We reached Singapore just in time for New Year’s Eve to see the year 2019 in. We couldn’t have been in a better location than at Marina Bay for the most spectacular fireworks display. We instantly fell in love with Singapore, and even extended our stay, staying in 3 different locations.

FirstHotel 81 Osaka – a cosy, modern hotel (as cheap as we could find) with kind, professional staff. Small, but very clean and comfortable rooms. The hotel was in a great location, despite the train station being a 20 minute walk. There is a mini-mart next door, with plenty of restaurants, bars and bakery’s buzzing in nearby streets. We even managed to fulfil our cravings for Pad Thai locally!

Second – On to China Town! What a better place to stay for Luke’s Birthday than in a space pod in the middle of China Town – MET A Space Pods. These were one of the more affordable accommodation options in the area, but despite being cheap, we were honestly blown away by this place! Climb into a private, glowing space pod straight onto your bed, surrounded by cool lights and even a TV! The lounge and breakfast area is full of space decor and super cosy, we would love to stay here again.

Third – Our extended stay copped us a lovely budget stay in the Backpackers’ Inn, also in China Town. If only we had found this sooner! As a couple, we were lapping it up in our private room with a double bunk bed, sofa and TV. The whole place was colourful and had a good vibe, and even offered a DIY laundry service. We loved the privacy and independence we had here, as we were super tired by this point on our trip.

Places of interest

If your budget allows, then you can’t really miss Universal Studios Singapore can you?! We were low on funds but there was no way we were missing this. Dive into the land of your favourite movies and TV shows, scream on top of the highest roller coasters, and our favourite part… explore the life-sized Far Far Away Land from Shrek!

Universal Studios is situated on Sentosa Island, a magical island where you can find plenty of other things to see and do! Bungee jumping, animal encounters, water park fun, dolphin island, segway riding, beaches, VR, sky walks and even indoor wind tunnel!

Ahhh the iconic Marina Bay Sands. The hotel rooms out of reach for many, but this doesn’t stop you getting up close and shopping around in the mall below! On the other side of the bay, the Merlion statue stands proud, which comes to life at night! Not afraid of heights? The Singapore Flyer ferris wheel will give you a view over the city like no other!

Right behind Marina Bay Sands is Gardens by the Bay, a beautiful park and garden with several super trees standing 160ft tall. What the flip is a super tree I hear you ask? They are large tree-like structures which form Super Tree Grove – they were built to enhance flora within the big city. The 18 trees are home to over 158,000 plants and comprise of more than 700 species! They provide visitors with shade during the day and come to life at night, literally all singing and dancing with its own light show. If you want to get even closer, there is a sky-walk amongst the trees, pretty awesome!

Garden by the Bay has plenty of other things to offer which are well worth the visit – you can also find the Flower Dome, Cloud Forest, Floral Fantasy (new to 2019), gardens, sculptures, lakes and fountains, and not forgetting the restaurants and cafes. Such a lovely, fun filled day out!

You can’t beat a good old Science Museum, but the one by the Marina it a little different – its an ArtScience Museum. Full of fun, funky rooms and exhibitions, you can definitely get some cool photos here! But be sure to keep an eye out for their special events and big screen showings! Right now they have a “Moongazers” event going on, with film showings, performances and talks.

Unfortunately as of 2019, one of the lovely Singapore gardens have closed for renovations. The Chinese & Japanese Gardens were fantastic to visit, however will no longer be accessible until 2021 on wards.

Despite that, the gardens are a stunning, off the grid, nice and quiet location. Get yourself to the charming Chinese and Japanese Gardens after 2021 to spend the day strolling around the beautiful gardens, pagodas and bonsai gardens – or is this all going to change? We’re excited to see what the restoration brings!

If you have seen anything online about Changi Airport, then you will know why it’s made onto our places of interest. Boring old airports are a thing of the past – prepare for indoor waterfalls, slides to your gate (yes, actual slides), butterfly gardens, dancing sculptures, free massages, swimming pools, and not forgetting the colourful, vibrant and fun waiting areas and lounges! Airport or theme park? You decide!


We hope this super long Asia route finds you well and helps you lots! Don’t forget to check out the personalised Google Map route of all of the places we’ve mentioned above!

You can also check our full reviews of all the Vietnamese hotels we’ve mentioned in our “Cheap hotels Vietnam” guide. They were all lovely budget hotels and great for couples!

As always, sending love and the happiest of travels!

Round the world with us

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