Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam explorer

Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam explorer

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.

On this page

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.

Suggest trip length

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.

Sample plan

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)

Save some time

Aside from knocking off destinations, the best way to save time it to fly some of the legs.
One day: Skip any one town

Take a side trip

Wow, well the potential for sidetrips is almost endless -- take a look at our trip-plans for the individual countries to get some ideas.

Combine trip plans

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.

Sample Trip Times (in hours)

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
Bangkok Ayutthaya - 1:30 1:45 -
Ayutthaya Sukhothai (train only as far as Phitsanulok) - 5:30 4:00 -
Sukhothai Chiang Mai - 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 - -
Vang Vieng Vientiane - 4:00 - -
Vientiane Tha Khaek - 6:00 - -
Tha Khaek Savannakhet - 2:30 - -
Savannakhet Pakse - 6:00 - -
Pakse Champasak - 2:00 - 3:30
Champasak Don Khong - 4:00 - 5:00-8:00
Don Khong Don Khon & Don Dhet - 1:00 - 1:30
Don Khon & Don Dhet Stung Treng - 2:00 - 2:00
Stung Treng Kratie - 3:00 - -
Kratie Phnom Penh - 5:00 - -
Phnom Penh Siem Reap 1:00 5:00 - 6:00-8:00
Siem Reap Battambang - 4:00 - 3:00-7:00
Battambang Phnom Penh - 4:00 12:00+ -
Phnom Penh Saigon 1:00 5:00 - -
Saigon/p> Mui Ne - 4:00 - -
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) -
Hue Hanoi 1:10 14:00 13:00 -
Hanoi Ha Long Bay - - 3:00 -
Hanoi Sapa - - 10:00 -

Reviewed by

Stuart McDonald co-founded 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.

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More itineraries

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.


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.


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.

The region

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.