We're often asked about our picks for where to go when travellers have a certain amount of time up their sleeve, or what the best time of year is for going to this island or those mountains. With weather in mind, and pretending for a moment that we could travel right through 2013, here's where we'd go in Southeast Asia over the next year based on where we've already been and what we've read about when it comes to where we want to go.
January: Ko Kut, Thailand
This is one of the few developed Thai islands that we've never set foot on. Our researchers have though and Ko Kut sounds like the perfect kind of place to ease in the New Year. Think long beaches, a comprehensive range of accommodation (from the cheap to the super luxurious) and in January, delightful weather.
February: Hoi An, Vietnam
I've been to Hoi An many times over the years and while it's a fully developed tourist destination nowadays, it remains a beautiful and charming town. Get up early to wander the fresh produce market by the river, munch your way through the day at the many cafes and noodle outlets and wind up on the beach for the late afternoon. And if the vendor hassle gets too much, make a beeline for nearby An Bang beach, where the monsoon should just be easing off.
March: Hua Phan province, Laos
One of Laos' most isolated regions, Hua Phan's history is as fascinating as its landscape is stunning. Spend time visiting the cave systems that first served as shelter during the American war and then prisons afterwards. This is untouristed Laos at it's best.
April: Perhentians, Malaysia
It's been almost 15 years since we've wandered the beaches here and we'd go back in a heartbeat. On this first (and only) visit we stumbled upon what remains one of the most stunning beaches we've seen in Southeast Asia. We need to revisit Little Perhentian to see if it is still there; we wouldn't mind another swim with the turtles, either.
May: Flores, Indonesia
With its fancy new airport, everyone is talking about Lombok, but I'd suggest casting a stone a little further east to Flores. Once there, I'd be setting aside a considerable stretch of time for beach and snorkelling research.
June: Si Phan Don, Laos
The 4,000 islands in southern Laos get pretty busy (by Lao standards) in high season, so why not buck the trend and go at the peak of the wet season in June? The crowds should be as low as the river is high, making for a relaxing slow week aside with just a hammock and a river view to distract. Take some good books and get offline for a bit.
July: Joochiat, Singapore
Joochiat remains our favourite part of Singapore. Excellent food, a vibrant night scene -- it's sleazy by Singaporean standards so not uncomfortably so -- and a hop, skip and a jump into the more central parts of the city where we'd get our museum fix and do a bit of shopping. We thoroughly recommend doing the Betelbox food tour for a taste of what's on offer around here, too.
August: Sumatra, Indonesia
Another Indonesian island
province we're yet to explore, in August I'd love a lazy month taking in Sumatra from top to tail. Kick off at Pulau Weh, then Aceh and Lake Toba before slowly weaving our way down the spine of the province, finishing off with a view to Krakatau off the southern tip. Oh and eating quite a bit. No, actually a lot.
September: Kuching, Malaysia
Just about everyone I know who has been to Kuching says they'd happily live there, so I'll be a visit virgin in 2013 both for the town itself and the outlying Bako National Park, which our researcher in Sarawak has handily just covered.
October: Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia
Cambodia's poster child for eco-tourism, the reports remain resoundingly positive from the interesting and low-key Cardamoms. I'd probably cheat and combine it with a revisit to Koh Kong which itself has some great beaches, river trips and other distractions.
November: Umphang, Thailand
Umphang is one of our favourite destinations in Thailand. Stunning scenery and, if border conditions/security allow, we'd love to finally undertake the seven-day trek south to Sangkhlaburi, which weaves you across (illegally) into Karen State in Burma. Best thing in doing this is getting to go to Sangkhlaburi too.
December: Koh Rong, Cambodia
Where better to finish 2013 off than the picture-postcard perfect island of Koh Rong, off the Cambodian south coast. Koh Rong is appearing at the top of a lot of hot destination lists at the moment, so this is one of those places we'd advise heading to sooner rather than later.
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.