Southeast Asia is one of the most popular destinations in the world for backpackers.
Comprised of eleven countries, this region offers rich variation in culture, customs, and tourist attractions.
Six weeks is more than enough time to see the best of the region, but it can be difficult to plan a good itinerary.
You might be tempted to visit all eleven countries, but you're better off focusing on three or four of them if you want to avoid a rushed experience.
Week 1: Bangkok and Sukhothai
Begin your trip with an assault on the senses in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city.
This sprawling metropolis is full of roadside street food stalls serving up delicious local cuisine until all hours, and a wild nightlife scene that doesn’t stop until sunrise.
Bangkok also features many must-see attractions, including Wat Arun, shown in main article image above, a majestic riverside temple, and the stunning Grand Palace, the former residence of Thailand’s royalty.
When you’ve had enough of Bangkok, travel north to explore the ancient ruins of Sukhothai.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sukhothai Historical Park features ruins from the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom of the 13th and 14th centuries.
Week 2: Chiang Mai
After Sukhothai, you can catch a bus or a train to Chiang Mai.
Popular among expats and tourists alike, Chiang Mai is a place you’re likely to fall in love with.
Surrounded by lush jungle and mountainous scenery, Chiang Mai is the perfect location to go hiking, white-water rafting, or motorcycling. There are also some great night markets in the city, selling all manner of souvenirs and delicious food.
The people of Chiang Mai are friendly, and the Lanna culture of the north is worth learning about because it’s distinctly different from the rest of the country.
Be sure to treat yourself to a Thai massage when you’re in Chiang Mai because the city is famous for its spa and wellness centres.
Week 3: Northern Laos and Luang Prabang
The next stage of your journey takes you to Luang Prabang, a tranquil city in the north of Laos.
You’ll travel by two-day slow boat from the border town of Huay Xai, just a five-hour bus ride from Chiang Mai. The slow boat offers ample opportunity to relax while you take in the beautiful scenery of the Mekong river.
When you arrive in Luang Prabang, prepare to fall in love with its charm.
You’ll also be impressed with how clean it is. Simply sit along the waterfront and relax with some delicious Laotian food while you watch the sunset. Be sure to check out the Kuang Si waterfall when you’re in town because it is one of the most magnificent waterfalls in Southeast Asia.
Week 4: Vang Vieng and Vientiane
Surrounded by a gorgeous karst landscape, Vang Vieng is a great place to relax for a few days.
Vang Vieng is a three-hour bus journey from Luang Prabang, and you’ll want to keep your eyes open for this trip because the scenery is incredible.
The town itself formerly had a reputation as a party town, but this has changed recently due to a government crackdown and because many young tourist were injured and even died while inebriated and partying in the water.
The main attraction of Vang Vieng is tubing. This involves riding down the Nam Song River on a rubber ring while you admire the glorious scenery.
The capital city of Laos, Vientiane, is just three hours from Vang Vieng.
While it’s not a hectic city like other capital cities in this region, Vientiane is a charming place to spend time.
You can go temple-hopping for a day and then relax in the evening with a beer beside the Mekong river.
Vientiane is also a great place to get to know Laotian cuisine, and it’s a good idea to do a cookery course in the city before moving on to Cambodia.
Week 5: Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat
The capital city of Phnom Penh is a good place to start in Cambodia because you get to learn about the country’s dark history under the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
Visit the heartbreaking Killing Fields where the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot sent millions of people to be executed. Phnom Penh isn’t the happiest place to go, but it’s important to learn about the country’s tragic past.
The next part of your journey takes you to the stunning Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap.
This attraction often makes it to the top of the world’s must-see destinations, and it’s easy to see why.
The complex was built by King Suryavarman II during the period of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia. Prepare to be blown away by both the size of the complex and the intricate architecture.
Week 6: Kampot and Otres Beach
The final leg of your journey is in the south of Cambodia.
Your first stop is Kampot, a sleepy riverside town famous for the production of peppercorns. You can visit temples, go to the local markets, or even visit a peppercorn farm. Make sure to try some crab with Kampot pepper for a truly delicious Cambodian dish.
Finally, you can spend a couple of days on stunning Otres Beach. With pristine white sand and clear turquoise water, Otres Beach is an idyllic location.
Feel free to relax by the sea with some Cambodian food, and get a cheap foot massage. This slice of paradise is the perfect way to finish your six-week trip in Southeast Asia.