This is the big one! Travelling throughout the region, you'll touch on the highlights of all four countries, including Bangkok and Sukhothai in Thailand, Luang Prabang and Four Thousand Islands in Laos, Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and of course, Saigon, Hoi An and Hanoi in Vietnam.
For those set on seeing all four countries, this is a good route to take as it has a minimal amount of backtracking. If you cross from Laos to Vietnam by one of the more central crossings on the panhandle (such as Lao Bao or Lak Sao), you will need to do some substantial backtracking legs in Vietnam if you want to see the entire country.
There's a load of travel involved in a circuit like this -- particularly if you decide to do the whole trip overland. If you're a bit short of time or just can't face getting on another bus, look into flying some of the legs.
If you're willing to fly a few routes and skip out some of the lesser-known spots, you could cover all four countries in as little as two weeks, but we'd say that was a really bad idea -- unless your idea of a holiday is to be on the move just about every day. Realistically a comfortable minimum to do the following route, with stops at all the designated towns, would be at least five to six weeks. With longer stays in a few spots and perhaps with a few extra add-ons, eight to ten weeks would be a comfortable pace of travel. If you decide to add in the South of Thailand (not covered on this trip plan) add in another two weeks. Thailand and Vietnam in particular are skipped through in this trip -- one could easily spend far longer in each country.
1) Bangkok -> Ayutthaya (ruins, historical interest)
2) Ayutthaya -> Sukhothai (via Phitsanulok) (ruins, historical interest)
3) Sukhothai -> Chiang Mai (trekking centre, temples)
4) Chiang Mai -> Chiang Khong (riverside town, day trips, crossing to Laos)
5) Chiang Khong -> Huay Xai (riverside town)
6) Huay Xai -> Pakbeng (riverside town, half-way point to Luang Prabang)
7) Pakbeng -> Luang Prabang (temples, riverside town, scenic)
8) Luang Prabang -> Vang Vieng (scenic, backpacker scene)
9) Vang Vieng -> Vientiane (capital city, temples, riverside city)
10) Vientiane -> Tha Khaek (riverside town, caves, scenic)
11) Tha Khaek -> Savannakhet (riverside town, national parks, colonial architecture)
12) Savannakhet -> Pakse (riverside town, daytrips)
13) Pakse -> Champasak (ruins)
14) Champasak -> Four Thousand Islands - Don Khong, Don Dhet & Don Khon (scenic, waterfalls, backpacker scene)
15) Four Thousand Islands -> Kratie (riverside town, dolphins)
16) Kratie -> Phnom Penh (capital city, colonial architecture, scenic)
17) Phnom Penh -> Siem Reap (Angkor Wat, backpacker scene)
18) Siem Reap -> Battambang (riverside town, rural daytrips, ruins)
19) Battambang -> Phnom Penh
20) Phnom Penh -> Saigon (museums, nightlife, daytrips)
21) Saigon -> Mui Ne (beaches, sand dunes)
22) Mui Ne -> Nha Trang (beaches, boat trips)
23) Nha Trang -> Hoi An (riverside town, shopping, tailoring)
24) Hoi An -> Hue (Imperial capital, temples, trips to DMZ)
25) Hue -> Hanoi (capital city, colonial architecture, shopping)
26) Hanoi -> Ha Long Bay (stunning scenery)
27) Hanoi -> Sapa (trekking, minority groups, scenic)
Aside from knocking off destinations, the best way to save time it to fly some of the legs.
One day: Skip any one town
Wow, well the potential for sidetrips is almost endless -- take a look at our trip-plans for the individual countries to get some ideas.
If you want to fit in some island time in Thailand, check out our Thailand islands and more islands trip plan, otherwise refer to any one of the specific country plans for more ideas.
To help you work out how you'll get around, we've listed the trip durations for the various forms of transport available. Note that with the exception of flight times, these are average trip times, so no hate mail if you take the slow train.
|THE REGION: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam explorer|
|Ayutthaya||Sukhothai (train only as far as Phitsanulok)||-||5:30||4:00||-|
|Chiang Mai||Chiang Khong||-||6:00||-||-|
|Huay Xai||Pakbeng||-||-||-||1 day|
|Pakbeng||Luang Prabang||-||-||-||6-10 hours|
|Luang Prabang||Vang Vieng||-||5:00||-||-|
|Don Khong||Don Khon & Don Dhet||-||1:00||-||1:30|
|Don Khon & Don Dhet||Stung Treng||-||2:00||-||2:00|
|Phnom Penh||Siem Reap||1:00||5:00||-||6:00-8:00|
|Mui Ne||Nha Trang||-||7:00||7:00 (Ma Lam)||-|
|Nha Trang||Hoi An||-||10:00||9:00 (Da Nang)||-|
|Hoi An||Hue||-||4:00||2:30 (Da Nang)||-|
|Hanoi||Ha Long Bay||-||-||3:00||-|
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.
Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.
How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.
North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.
The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.
So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.
Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.
This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.