Once you arrive in Southeast Asia to start your travels, the most expensive part of your trip the airfare from home is over. While you could continue to travel at the top end, picking luxury hotels in Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta, Manila and Bali, the tried-and-true travel routes in Southeast Asia attract significant numbers of budget and value-oriented travelers. You may experience magnificent sights by taking advantage of accessible, low-cost minibuses and spoil yourself with similarly cheap lodging that may still include a tray of juice and cut local flowers on the verandah in the sun-washed morning.
Pack lightweight, light-colored shirts and slacks, a bathing suit and a bag to hold dirty clothes. Bring a rain parka of plastic or breathable fabric if you are visiting during the monsoon season, which varies by destination. Include earplugs for noisy lodgings, a debit and a credit card, a padlock, a money belt and toilet paper. Travel as lightly as possible; you can buy additional needed items cheaply on the road.
Make your own independent travel arrangements. Southeast Asia is set up well for backpackers and adventure travelers, with storefront travel agencies in all large cities well used to providing advice and low-cost transportation options. You also may join a group if you are more comfortable with someone else guiding you on a boutique tour off the beaten track. You can mix and match, joining an overland tour from Bangkok to Bali, for example, and striking out on your own to explore other nooks and crannies of Southeast Asia.
Work out a plan for your itinerary that takes advantage of existing transportation routes and your preferred interests. You can fly into Bangkok, for example, and use Thailand’s principal city as a base to move on to Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Vietnam or Cambodia, or to visit Chiang Mai and hill-trekking destinations in the north of Thailand. You also may start off in Manila to explore the Philippines’ great beaches and dive sites, or Singapore to access Malaysia, Indonesia or New Guinea.
Rely on surface transportation for a good look at the countryside and meeting people; trains on Java, for example, may feature itinerant magicians and singing duos. You can take the train from Bangkok to Singapore, making this journey the centerpiece of your trip. Add side trips to Phuket and Krabi in Thailand, or the Cameron Highlands and unspoiled islands off Malaysia. Ferries connect Java to Bali, and Thailand’s coastal cities to party islands in the Gulf of Thailand and Phangnga Bay.
Indulge in your favorite pursuits in Southeast Asia. Itinerant masseuses in Bangkok, and on Thai and Indonesian beaches offer hour-long massages with coconut oil and manicures. Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Bangkok’s Wat Pho, Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (Rangoon) and the stellar Borobodur on Java will delight fans of temple architecture and atmosphere. Photographers and sailing buffs will enjoy Thailand’s limestone pinnacles in Phangnga Bay, off Krabi. The iconic island of Koh Phi Phi and nearby Maya Cove provide a blend of tropical paradise and a look at post-tsunami rebuilding. Hotel buffs can visit the famed Eastern & Oriental hotels of Southeast Asia, while wildlife aficionados can check out the orangutans on Borneo or the giant lizards on Komodo in Indonesia. Foodies will love Singapore or much of Thailand.