Last Sunday I presented a simple itinerary through South America, which would be ideal for a first time visitor to the continent. This week I offer a second easy itinerary, this time to exotic Southeast Asia, another region which is welcoming to the budding traveller.

An easy itinerary in Southeast Asia

This trip visits three countries (Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand) and you should give it four weeks, even though it can be shortened if you cut out a few things as indicated. The best time for this trip is December to February.


Fly into Singapore. Singapore is a thoroughly modern city and spic-and-span clean. You can hide from the heat and shop to your heart content in the A/C malls along Orchard Road, or come out at night to eat your fill of cheap (and safe) food at the hawker stalls. There is such a variety of food that you can spend all day snacking. Singapore is very multi-cultural (mostly Chinese, Malay, and Indian) and English is one of the four official languages spoken. Depending on your tastes you can visit temples, markets, colonial buildings, ethnic neighbourhoods, animal parks, take a cruise, etc. Spend 2 days, 4 days, it’s up to you and your budget. (Singapore is the most expensive country in Southeast Asia.)


Next take a bus to Melaka, Malaysia, a colourful town which was occupied first by the Portuguese and then the Dutch (who left interesting pink buildings) and finally the British. Ride around in a kitschy bicycle rickshaw and have a drink or meal along the canal. A couple of days should be enough here.

If time is short, you can skip Melaka and take a train directly from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur (KL). From Melaka, you have to continue by bus to reach KL. Kuala Lumpur can be both hectic and peaceful, depending on where you are. Do not miss a guided tour to the top of the Petronas Towers, currently the tallest twin towers in the world. (Book several days in advance). You could also visit the extensive Bird Park, do a guided walking tour of the colonial centre, or take in the impressive architecture on Merdeka Square. Like Singapore, KL is a very hot and humid city so don’t overexert yourself.

Next, take a train to Penang, an island in the north west of Malaysia. The capital of Penang, Georgetown, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its mixture of 19th century churches, temples, mosques, and colonial buildings. It’s also the “food paradise” of Malaysia (which itself has some of the most interesting food in Southeast Asia).


After all this cultural exploration, it’s time for Thailand‘s beaches. At this point you have a few different options:

  • Continue on the train to Surat Thani in Thailand from where you can transfer to the Gulf of Thailand islands: Ko Samui, Ko Phangan and Ko Tao. (This may be a faster and more straightforward option on tight itineraries, especially during dryer February).
  • Take a bus or fly Air Asia to Phuket or Krabi and do some island hopping on the Andaman Sea (Railay, Ao Nang, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, even Ko Mook)

After a week or so on the beaches, continue on to Bangkok (flight, overnight bus, or overnight train if you are on the Gulf side).

Spend 4 days in rapidly modernizing Bangkok where you can still find glittery Buddhist temples and street markets near the Chao Phraya river. Or just surrender to the modern malls and do some last minute shopping.

Fly out from Bangkok.

Have I whet your appetite yet? 🙂

If you want to learn more about independent travel in Southeast Asia, consider getting my e-book “Organize your own amazing trips to Southeast Asia“. It provides you with a detailed road map to organizing trips like the one presented in this post. It’s the guide you should read before the guidebooks!

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