Hurrah! My #40days40blogs challenge meant I finally posted up all the details of my two months in Southeast Asia! Here’s a roundup of all the places I managed to squeeze into my two months solo and on a shoestring budget, including detailed itineraries, travel journal entries and more:
Two Months in Southeast Asia: Myanmar (Burma)
I started my two months in Southeast Asia with Myanmar, also known by its old colonial name, Burma (this confused some of the Brits back home so FYI).
This country is fascinating. I was intrigued by its history and the tragic stories of the governing military regime and the colonial wars.
Also, I personally found Burmese cities to be overwhelming, even for someone like me who had been living in Asia for five years. The traffic, the crowds, the business, the noise! It was chaotic, but beautiful. I really felt like I’d thrown myself into the deep end.
I began my time in Myanmar in Yangon, then travelled by bus to Mandalay and Bagan, before heading back to Yangon. In total, I spent 10 days in the country, giving me just a taste of what Myanmar has to offer and it was just enough to satiate my wanderlust (for now).
Yangon was a hive of activity with so much to see and do, including a stop at the iconic Shwedagon Paya, which I had been coveting in the run up to my trip (it had been my screensaver for months).
Though I didn’t think it was possible, Mandalay was even more hectic than Yangon! Highlights included retracing the Buddha’s own footsteps up Mandalay Hill, cycling around Mandalay Palace at sunset and seeing the famous and controversial Moustache Brothers’ show!
In contrast to the sprawling chaos of Burmese cities, Bagan was a stunning and serene ocean of ancient Buddhist temples. Exploring the archaeological site by scooter (and only falling off once) was surreal, as I stopped to explore and climb the temples that took my fancy.
However, the magic of Bagan really comes to life at sunrise and sunset. The shadows of the temples grow long, the landscape turns to gold and hot air balloons rise out of the haze. It’s spectacular.
For a detailed itinerary of my time in Myanmar, you can read Burma Budget and My Myanmar Travel Tips. To peruse my personal diary, lifted from the travel journal I wrote during my two months in Southeast Asia, read 10 Days in Myanmar | Travel Diary.
For a ‘Top 10’ roundup of things that I picked up in those 10 Days, read Myanmar: 10 Things That Might Surprise You, published on Go Nomad.
Two Months in Southeast Asia: Laos
From Myanmar, I headed onto Laos, spending a week in this little landlocked country. Competition was fierce, but Laos is definitely one of my favourite places that I visited during my two months in Southeast Asia. One week was definitely not enough time to fully explore it.
I fell in love with the laid-back character and beauty of quaint, picturesque Luang Prabang. By minibus, I travelled onto Vang Vieng, a place famous (and infamous) for tubing activities along the Nam Song River. Finally, I ended my trip in the capital, Vientiane, discovering the sights of the city.
Luang Prabang may be a city, but it has the atmosphere of a town or village. The gorgeous temples with their low-sloping roofs, the colonial Indochinese-style villas and the buzzing scene of the night market has cemented this place in my mind. I will be back one day for sure.
Vang Vieng, in contrast, was not exactly what I was expecting. The tubing crowd and the town that desperately catered to that demographic was not the idyllic countryside town I envisioned. However, what Vang Vieng lacked in authenticity, it more than made up for in natural beauty.
Finally, I ended the week in Vientiane, the bustling capital. Though not as pretty as Luang Prabang nor as scenic as Vang Vieng, Vientiane still managed to capture my heart. The peaceful temples, the large parks and the Patuxai building lit up in sunset colours were unforgettable.
For a full itinerary of my trip to Laos, read Backpacking Around Laos | Budget and Travel Tips. For some context on how I absolutely fell in love with LP, read 24 Hours in Luang Prabang. Finally, for my narrative travel diary entries, read One Week in Laos | Travel Diary.
Two Months in Southeast Asia: Cambodia
I have wanted to visit Cambodia ever since I arrived in Asia back in 2011 and the country didn’t disappoint. The ancient history is astounding and incredibly well-preserved. The modern history is heartbreaking and a little uncomfortable to learn about, though still important to revisit.
Also, the food is amazing! Sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam, both well-known for their delicious cuisine, Cambodian food wasn’t on my radar until I tried it and I was pleasantly surprised. Fish amok is now one of my favourite Southeast Asian dishes!
Although I had two full weeks in Cambodia, I managed to mess up my itinerary pretty bad, so that I was always going back and forth from Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, back to Phnom Penh, then Kampot and Sihanoukville and then back to Phnom Penh! Not exactly my best travel planning.
Phnom Penh, the capital, was another crazy Southeast Asia city, with death-defying traffic that made me squeal every time a scooter brushed passed by bike. As for the sights, the Royal Palace was breathtaking, while visits to Tuol Sleng Prison and the Killing Fields absolutely stopped my heart.
Then it was on to Siem Reap, which is known for two things: the gateway to Angkor and hedonistic nightlife! These two extremes seem like they couldn’t possibly work together, yet they do.
Exploring Angkor was an other-worldly experience that I will always cherish. The history of the ancient civilisation and its city is mind-boggling, while the timelessness of the ancient temples really put your modern life into perspective.
Next up were Kampot and Sihanoukville, my lazy chill-out destinations. Kampot’s slow-paced riverside ambiance was exactly what I needed and the sunsets and fireflies around the water were enchanting. On the flip side, Sihanoukville was more of a party town than a beach paradise.
For more information about my two weeks in Cambodia, read XX and formy travel journal entries read Two Weeks in Cambodia | Travel Diary.
I posted about exploring Angor in Real Life Temple Run | How I Saw 10 Temples In Angkor In Just One Day (quite a feat when you see how huge the ancient city is). I also talked about how affecting Cambodia’s modern history is in So That History Does Not Repeat Itself | Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Two Months in Southeast Asia: Vietnam
I first visited Vietnam back in 2013, spending a week in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. However, I had promised myself I wouldn’t leave Southeast Asia until I had seen Ho Chi Minh City, also known by its previous name, Saigon. That’s right – I wasn’t going to ‘Miss Saigon’ (best pun ever)!
I hopped over the border from Cambodia by bus to HCM City for just a few days, but I was taken aback. Saigon is a world away from small, traditional Hanoi! The city is huge, the skyscrapers are massive and the city has a truly global outlook. Oh, and the traffic rules are anything goes!
I spent a day or so exploring the city and also took a day tour down to the Mekong Delta. It only seemed fitting after following the Mekong through my two months in Southeast Asia that I was finally seeing where it spilled out into the sea.
A full itinerary for my time in Saigon can be found at Ho Chi Minh City Travel Advice & Budget Planning. My travel diary is, of course, entitled Don’t Miss Saigon! | A Few Days in Ho Chi Minh City | Travel Diary. (Told you that pun was a winner).
Two Months in Southeast Asia: Bali, Indonesia
Before I started plotting out my two months in Southeast Asia, I toyed with the idea of spending the full two months in Indonesia instead. Obviously, I ultimately decided on a multi-country trip so that I could see and experience the corners of Asia I had yet to see.
But, judging by how much I enjoyed my time in Bali, Indonesia would not have been a bad call either! There is so much to see and do just on this one island! Although there are certain areas of Bali that are more touristy than others, it seemed to me that tourism had not spoilt this little island.
I started my two weeks on Bali in Legian, which I admit was a huge mistake! I quickly learnt how different Kuta/Legian is to the rest of the island and hastily headed north away from the touristy ‘party’ districts, which weren’t for me.
After that, I spent a few days respectively in both Lovina and Amed, which are known for marine wildlife. Then, it was five days relaxing in Ubud, stretching out at yoga and generally living like a hippy.
My final few days were spent in Canggu, a surfer’s paradise, though as my travel diary will contest to, sadly I wasn’t able to surf myself.
For more information about the different areas of Bali I visited, read Guide to Bali: Planning and Travel Tips. My woeful travel diary entries lamenting my string of bad luck on the island can be found at Two Weeks in Bali, A Series of Unfortunate Events | Travel Diary.
Two Months in Southeast Asia: Final Thoughts
I packed so much into my two months in Southeast Asia that it was difficult to keep up with the pace! For anyone else looking to make such as trip in a similar time frame, I would definitely advise that less is more.
Having seen a lot of Asia already (you may notice Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore etc. don’t appear on this list) and having lived in Hong Kong for five years, I didn’t mind doing a whirlwind tour.
But, if you’re a newbie then you’re seeing everything with news eyes (and I’m so jealous of you getting to experience it for the first time). It’s better to pick a few countries that are close together and go deeper into the culture than to skip around ticking places off.
With five years in Asia behind me as well as this trip backpacking two months in Southeast Asia, I’ve managed to see a lot. But, it’s never enough! I would love to do it all again and fill in all the gaps I missed. However, next time I’ll plan for a bit more time and try to save for a bigger budget!