My girlfriend and I have always dreamed of backpacking through South East Asia. However, we both work full-time and only have a limited amount of vacation days. We eventually figured out a route to travel Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in just a little more than two weeks without feeling hurried, or like we’ve missed much. If you also want to travel South East Asia in a bit more than two weeks, we hope our travel route can help you!
Day 1-2: Bangkok, Thailand
We flew in from Hamburg to Bangkok and stayed in Rimklong Hostel, deep in an historic area of Bangkok. Of all the hostels we stayed in during our trip, this was one of our favourites! It’s located in an area with lots of street food options nearby, and you can have breakfast overlooking a canal.
Day 3-4: Siem Reap, Cambodia (Angkor)
We flew from Bangkok to Siem Reap in Cambodia with a super cheap flight from Air Asia. Alternatively, we could have take the bus, which is even cheaper but would have costed us a full day of not-so-comfortable travel.
Siem Reap really felt like a jungle adventure town to me. If Indiana Jones would have jumped out from the next corner, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
The majestic temples of Angkor are just a few kilometers north of the city of Siem Reap. We recommend to spend 2-3 days in Siem Reap. If you make really good use of your days (i.e. get up before 7AM and stay until sunset), you can explore all of Angkor in just two days. Check out our full review, including our ranking of our favorite temples here: Exploring the Ancient Ruins of Angkor
Day 5-6: Battambang, Cambodia
We travelled south from Siem Reap to the less touristic city of Battambang on our 5th day. We initially planned to do the tour by ship, but the water level was so low that most of the distance would have been covered by bus. So we decided to save a lot of money and do the entire tour by bus.
You don’t really need to book anything in advance: You can just book your bus ticket the day before (or even the same day), and book a hotel in your destination a couple of hours before. I would recommend booking online though, so that you can compare hotel reviews.
My girlfriend and I really enjoyed Battambang. Want to read about petting crocodiles and encountering hundred thousand of bats? Then check out A Backpackers Guide to Battambang, Cambodia
Day 7: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
After two days in Battambang, we took the bus to Phnom Penh. We stayed for one night and then continued to Sihanoukville and from there to the beautiful island of Koh Rong Sanloem.
Day 8-10: Koh Rong Sanloem, Cambodia
Koh Rong Sanloem, and certainly also most of the neighboring islands, are a backpacker’s dream. There are plenty of small beach hideouts, where you stay with just a couple of other backpackers and have the entire beautiful beach for yourselves. The starting point for all these journeys is Sihanoukville, which is a buzzing beach town full of party, tourists, sex and adventure. We avoided Sihanoukville and directly went to the island.
For us, the island of Koh Rong Sanloem was definitely one of the highlights of our tour. We spent our days snorkeling, relaxing at the beach, exploring the jungle, playing pool billiard at the beach bar or sipping cocktails. We enjoyed our stay so much that we spontaneously decided to stay two additional days.
There are many islands around Sihanoukville: Koh Rong, Koh Rong Sanloem, Koh Ta Kiev, and others. To find out which one is the perfect island for you, check out The Perfect Island Escape on Koh Rong Sanloem.
Day 11: Kep, Cambodia
After our fantastic stay on Koh Rong Sanloem, we took the bus from Sihanoukville to Kep. We nearly died on the way, when our bus crashed with a large timber truck while overtaking another vehicle. The impact blasted of the side mirror of our bus. The reaction of our driver? He slowed down a bit, shrugged, and continued at full speed.
Kep was the hotspot of the Cambodian high society, until the Khmer Rouge destroyed the city. Even now, Kep is full of ruined shells of old villas. In retrospective, we could have skipped our stay in Kep. Neither the beach nor the town have much to offer. There’s lots of plastic waste everywhere and the scenery is not that appealing.
The notable exception is Kep’s national park. We spend a full day hiking through the jungle on super steep, adventurous trails. If you visit Kep, check out the park!
Day 12: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Even though Kep is located just a few kilometers away from the Vietnamese border, we headed back to Phnom Penh before continuing to Vietnam. We had checked online if there were direct bus or boat routes from Kep to our first Vietnamese destination Chau Doc, but didn’t find any. Eventually, we saw some ads for bus tours in the city center of Kep (if you can call it “center”), but at that time we had already booked our Mekong boat tour from Phnom Penh…
Day 13: Mekong, Cambodia / Vietnam
Definitely the best way to travel from Cambodia to Vietnam is to take a Mekong tour. This is not the cheapest way to travel, but it was still worth it! The tour took us a couple of hours and led us from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc.
Day 14: Chau Doc, Vietnam
We have never been to a more busy and loud place than Chau Doc. The city is full of motor cyclists, and even for South East Asian standards it’s noisy. The markets still provide an interesting experience (given that you manage to cross the roads safely to get there).
(Photo taken in Siem Reap, but in Chau Doc you can find similar delicacies.)
Day 15: Can Tho, Vietnam
After a busy half day in Chau Doc, we continued to Can Tho. It’s definitely worth getting up early to see the swimming food markets – yes, that’s food markets on a boat, in the river. We took the extended boat tour, which included a memorable tour of the small channels surrounding the city.
Day 16-17: Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon, Vietnam
Our last stop was Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). If you want to know which skybar is the place to be, read Over the Rooftops of Ho Chi Minh City.