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3 months itinerary for Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos including budget – Southeast Asia

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Hoi An Water Buffalo

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Southeast Asia is a very popular destination among backpackers. Not only is it super easy and safe to travel but also very affordable. In 2023 I explored Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos within three months and want to share the route and daily average costs with you. It’s the perfect round-trip starting end ending in Thailand. All border crossings can be done by bus – this saves money and is also a great adventure!

Even though Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos are neighbours and share a similar history, their culture, cuisine and landscape is quite different from each other. In my opinion each country deserves to be explored for at least three to four weeks to get a deeper insight into its culture.

Read more about how I felt after 3 months full-time travelling!

This Southeast Asia route is mostly inspiration for your own trip with all the stops I would personally recommend to consider when planning the route. I also added the low-budget accommodation I stayed at. Please bare in mind that the days per stop are just a suggestion! I personally love to travel slowly and stayed in some places for a whole week. This very much depends on your individual timeline and your preferred travel pace.

Itinerary Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia 3 months

The best time to visit Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos in Southeast Asia

I visited Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos from February to May 2023. The big advantage of these months is that there is little to no rain in all three countries. When I did the Ha Giang loop in the North of Vietnam we had pleasant temperatures and luckily no rain. However the temperatures in Laos were really challenging in April. Most of the days we had around 38 degrees which made exploring the area quite unpleasant. Due to the burning season in the North of Thailand and Laos reaching its peak in April the air quality can also become really bad.

So what is the best time to visit Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos? I’d suggest to plan your trip to Southeast Asia between October and February to avoid the burning season and benefit from pleasant, dry weather. Always bare in mind that even though there are ‘best times to travel’ online, there is never a guarantee when it comes to the weather in Southeast Asia. Therefore definitely pack a pair of long trousers, a jumper and a rain coat.

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Total costs per country: Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos

Before going into the details of the route and budget advice I summed up the total costs per country below. These include food, accommodation, transport, tourist activities and other costs (laundry, withdrawal fees, massage, …). Travel insurance and flights from outside of Asia have to be added.

CountryLengthCostsCost per day (average)
Cambodia06.02 – 07.03.2023680 €22.70 €
Vietnam07.03 – 06.04.2023683 €22.03 €
Laos06.04 – 01.05.2023812 €32.48 €
Total3 months2,175 €25.74 €
Total travel cost per country

Tips to keep the budget low in Southeast Asia

I travelled this route with a daily budget of 30 Euros. This included all costs like food, accommodation, travel insurance, tourist attractions and expenses like laundry and withdrawal fees. While it’s definitely possible to travel cheaper – I’d suggest to plan with at least 25 Euros per day – I didn’t want to restrict myself too much. You can eat much cheaper than I did as well. But for me food is a big one and I only function with a balanced diet while travelling.

Is it easy being vegan in Cambodia? Read more about this topic here!

Some days can be quite expensive, for example when visiting tourist attractions like Angkor Wat or taking a long bus. Other days can be super cheap. If you watch your budget rather on a weekly than daily basis it will balance out. Thanks to the advice I have for you below I was able to do activities like the Gibbon experience (290 Euros) in Laos – an expensive but worthwhile adventure. If you don’t want to spend money on things like this it can be an even cheaper trip.

Nong Khiaw to Huay Xai
Taking local busses
Workaway Cambodia
Volunteering while travelling

#1 Stay at low-budget places

Have a look at the different stops below to find out more about the accommodation I stayed at. In total I didn’t spend more than 5 Euros per night on average during the whole trip. Further down below you can see the average price for the accommodation per country.

I either shared a double room with my partner or stayed in hostels. 80 % of the time we booked rooms with air conditioning (much more comfortable during the hot months). They rooms we stayed at were pretty much all very comfortable and clean.

#2 Volunteer while travelling in Southeast Asia

Another big money saver during this trip were two volunteer projects I found on the platform Workaway. I stayed in a local school project in Cambodia for one week and another one in the south of Laos. In those two weeks I barely spent any money and could therefore save over 200 Euros of the planned budget. Money I could then spend on more expensive things (like the Gibbon experience) or to build some buffer for the more expensive travel days.

Read more about my first Workaway volunteer project in Cambodia!

But the even bigger advantage of doing a volunteer project while travelling is to get an experience you would never have as a normal ‘traveller’. You get an incredible insight into the local life, their individual challenges and can contribute in a very special way.

I taught English in schools, helped with building the website and got rewarded with smiling faces every day. I was in another school project during the New Year celebrations in Laos which was an unforgettable experience. We celebrated with the locals and got to see their traditions and ceremonies. Something you wouldn’t experience in the touristy places (the New Year is mostly drinking and shooting water at each other).

#3 DIY trips

Instead of booking organized day trips it’s much cheaper to do them yourself (DIY). Especially if you are travelling with someone else it can be advantageous to rent a scooter and drive to the tourist attractions yourself instead of going on a guided trip. Not only can you stop wherever you want but also see the things in your own pace.

Instead of going on a guided 4 day trip, we did the Ha Giang loop in the north of Vietnam ourselves and managed to save more than 70 Euros! In most of the cases you can save at least 20 % by doing the trip yourself. However, if you are travelling alone I think the more social and fun option is definitely to go on tours with other people. But who knows, maybe you will go to the next stop together and can then plan a trip yourselves!

Read more about the famous Ha Giang loop in the north of Vietnam!

#4 Take public transport & busses

You can save lots of money by taking public transport and busses instead of booking a taxi and going by plane. It’s not only the cheaper option to go by bus but also you can see the landscape changing and will drive past local villages.

There are many sleeper busses in Vietnam and Cambodia which take you from one to the next place. The journey sometimes take around 12 hours but as you have a bed-style seat you can even get some sleep and it doesn’t feel that long in the end. As you don’t pay for accommodation for that night and are taking the cheaper option (not to forget about the environmental aspect compared to flying) you can save a good amount of money. And get an adventurous experience with it!

Cambodia

The first country of the Southeast Asia itinerary is Cambodia, entering from Thailand in the west and leaving at the border to Vietnam in the east. The cheapest and easiest way to get to Cambodia is to fly to Bangkok in Thailand and take a bus to Siem Reap from there. Cambodia is an amazing country to visit as a backpacker. It has well developed infrastructure and feels less touristy than it’s neighbour country Thailand. Especially to new travellers I always recommend going to Cambodia as it’s super safe and easy to travel. The kingdom offers a perfect mix of culture, history, nature & beautiful beaches.

Cost overview

  • Average price for accommodation per night: 5.40 Euros / person
  • Average price for one meal: 3 Euros / meal
Cost Overview Cambodia 2023
Total costs Cambodia 2023 broken down into categories

Visa information

As a German I was able to get the visa on arrival for 30 USD at the border between Thailand and Cambodia. The duration is 30 days and it can be extended for another 30 at one of the local embassies.

Here is more information about the border crossing from Thailand to Cambodia!

Suggested Route Cambodia

1. Siem Reap

Siem Reap is a lovely town with many restaurants, coffee shops and things to do. It’s the perfect first stop to get familiar with the Cambodian culture and cuisine. You should definitely visit Angkor Wat, hire a bicycle and ride along the river or have a massage.

Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
Siem Reap coconut
Siem Reap night market
2. Battambang

Battambang is only a three hour car drive away from Siem Reap. The easiest way to get from Siem Reap to Battambang is to book a spot in a minivan. Click here to check the transport options. While the city of Battambang is not too exciting there are a few nice day trips you can do. We booked a tuk-tuk driver (26 USD per day) who took us to the bamboo train, to local vegetable farms and to the bat & killing cave. Also this cooking class in Battambang was just amazing!

3. Phnom Penh

To fully understand Cambodia’s history you need to make a stop in its capital Phnom Penh! The best option is to take a night bus from Battambang. In Phnom Penh you should visit the Killing Fields and the S21 genocide prison. Pay a visit to the National Museum, the Royal Palace and the night market in the heart of Phnom Penh. The perfect way to end a day in Cambodia’s capital is in one of the rooftop bars.

  • Low-budget accommodation: Golden Noura
  • Suggested duration: 2-4 days
4. Koh Rong Samloem

White-sand beaches and crystal clear water? I absolutely loved the islands in Cambodia. My favourite was the smaller one Koh Rong Samloem (also called Koh Rong Sanloem). From Phnom Penh you can get to the island within five hours. The atmosphere is very laid-back, there are only a few paved roads and there is barely internet. The perfect opportunity to slow down your trip and enjoy some relaxing days. Go hiking to clearwater bay, watch the sunset at the Cliff Hostel or join a boat tour to discover the quiet beauty of Koh Rong Samloem.

Beach M'Pai Bay
M’Pai Bay Beach
Clearwater Bay Koh Rong Samloem
Clearwater Bay, Koh Rong Samloem
5. Kampot

The riverside town Kampot is mostly known for its pepper plantations. You can easily organize the transport to Kampot on Koh Rong Samloem. I stayed in Kampot for a whole week as the town is quite pretty and there are many more things to do! Check out one of the cute cafés in town (save Epic Arts in your maps!), go kayaking and do a DIY day trip to Bokor Hill National Park or the beach town Kep.

  • Low-budget accommodation: Onederz Kampot
  • Suggested duration: 4-6 days
Bokor Hill National Park
Bokor Hill National Park
Kayaking Kampot
Kayaking in Kampot
6. Volunteering in Kong Pisey

For the remaining week in Cambodia I joined a volunteer project in a rural school which was an unforgettable experience. The travelling and exploring part of the whole journey is great but in my opinion you won’t get as close to the culture and people as you do with volunteering. This project was located in Kong Pisey, which is a local district two hours south of Phnom Penh.

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I helped with building the website and teaching English. In exchange I was given free food and accommodation. I lived with a Cambodian family on the country side and got an incredible insight into the daily life and culture. I can only recommend doing volunteer projects in countries like this to understand their way of living a bit more. It’s a great way to also give back.

Here is an in-depth report about this experience and how you join as a volunteer as well.

  • Suggested duration: 10-14 days
Cando School Cambodia
One of the most rewarding experiences
Cando School Cambodia
Teaching English

Vietnam

The second country of this Southeast Asia journey is Vietnam. Despite being so close to its neighbour countries Laos & Cambodia, Vietnam is a very different country. There’s the North with gigantic mountains and low hanging clouds. You can even get very close to the Chinese border. The climate gets more humid the further South you travel. Bustling cities, delicious food, pretty villages, old temples and deep history are awaiting you in Vietnam.

The plan is to discover the southern part of Vietnam first, then fly up to the northern bit and travel down to Hoi An after. I chose this route because I wanted to cross the border to Laos as south as possible to then be able to travel Laos going south to north. The busses in Vietnam are more comfortable so it’s easier, cheaper and faster entering Laos from Hoi An.

Cost overview

  • Average price for accommodation per night: 5 Euros / person
  • Average price for one meal: 2 Euros / meal
Cost Overview Vietnam
Total costs Vietnam 2023 broken down into categories

Visa information

Getting a 30 day visa for Vietnam is a bit trickier as you have to get it beforehand. It’s best to apply for an e-visa approximately a week before entering. For more information check the official website. Please note: The visa starts with the stated starting date, not with you entering the country. The cost for 30 days is 25 USD.

I did this trip with only a small backpack – find out more!

Suggested Route Vietnam

1. Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, feels a bit like a different world coming from Cambodia. Much more commercial, busy, clean and organized (although chaotic). What amazed me most was the different food options. Being vegan in Vietnam is so easy! In Ho Chi Minh City you should visit the War Remnants Museum, the Qu Chi tunnels, embrace the coffee culture and in general just stroll through the busy streets and markets. From Phnom Penh there are many busses going to Ho Chi Minh City on a daily basis. Check the different operators here. The bus takes around 7 hours and drives via Moc Bai border. Bring your printed e-visa for a smoother visa process.

  • Low-budget accommodation: Vy Da Hostel
  • Suggested duration: 2-4 days
Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City can be modern
Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam
and also has a lot of history
2. Dalat

Dalat, the city of eternal spring, was one of my favourite spots in Vietnam. Located in the central Highlands in Vietnam the temperatures are very pleasant compared to the humid climate down in Ho Chi Minh City. In March we had 25 degrees during the day and around 12 degrees at night. Dalat is sometimes referred to as the ‘little Paris’ of Vietnam. The architecture of the buildings has been influenced by French colonies back in the 1890s.

Here are 8 amazing activities in Dalat!

One of the best things to do in Dalat are the Alpine Coaster which takes you to a waterfall, go hiking to Lang Biang Mountain and explore the day and night market in Dalat. The best way to get to Dalat from Ho Chi Minh City is to take a night bus.

  • Low-budget accommodation: Trieu Hao
  • Suggested duration: 3-5 days
Dalat Vietnam
Little Paris of Vietnam
Trieu Hao Guesthouse Dalat
Trieu Hao Guesthouse in Dalat
3. Hanoi

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and should definitely be part of your itinerary. What I loved about Hanoi is that despite being so big it felt less commercial than Ho Chi Minh City. My favourite part was the old quarter with small streets, narrow alleys, hidden cafés and many green trees. Have a coconut coffee at the Hidden Gem Café, walk around the Ho Hoan Kiem lake & visit the famous Train street. There are affordable flights going from Dalat to Hanoi on a daily basis.

Hanoi Vietnam
Houses in Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi Vietnam
Flower lady
4. Ha Giang

The Ha Giang loop is one of the most amazing motorbike loops in the world. The 350 km long route leads you along stunning mountains all the way up to the border of China. With every corner you take the scenery and vegetation changes. Me and my boyfriend did a DIY trip around the Ha Giang loop for four days, starting end ending in the small town Ha Giang. I decided to get a day bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang to see the scenery change.

Here is a full guide for a DIY trip around the Ha Giang loop!

  • Low-budget accommodation: Ha Giang Safari Hostel
  • Suggested duration: 5-7 days (this includes the Ha Giang loop)
From one scenic spot…
Tu San panorama
… to the next one.
5. Optional: Halong Bay

Halong Bay is a very popular destination for travellers coming to Vietnam. It’s famous for spectacular limestone mountains raising up from emerald waters. At that point of the journey I was a bit travelled out and therefore decided to skip this destination. It is said to be comparable to Phang Nga in Thailand, which I visited a few months before, so skipping Halong Bay was absolutely fine for me. Many people explore Halong Bay by going on a cruise.

6. Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh is a good stop on the way down to Hoi An from Ha Giang. It’s a bit like Halong Bay but without the water. Make sure to stay in Tam Coc instead of the city of Ninh Binh itself to be closer to the good restaurants, shops and main attractions in the area. I made the mistake to book a guesthouse close to the city which felt a bit dead. Click here to see the available bus connections from Ha Giang to Ninh Binh.

Here are some suggestions for things to do in Ninh Binh: Take a boat ride to Trang An, climb up to Hang Mua Viewpoint & rent a bicycle and explore the area.

Ninh Binh Pagoda
Ninh Binh Vietnam
7. Hoi An

Hoi An was one of my favourite places in Vietnam! The ancient town is incredibly beautiful with yellow houses, cozy shops & a river going through. You can cycle to the beach within 20 minutes or go on a sunset ride through the lush rice fields. Xom Chieu is a beautiful Vietnamese café right in the rice fields! I bought tickets for the bamboo circus which was spectacular! There are plenty of things to do in Hoi An! I stayed over a week and didn’t get bored. It was the perfect stop to rest before heading to Laos.

From Hoi An you can do day trips to explore the neighbour city Da Nang as well. For me, Da Nang felt a little bit too big so I only spent a day there going by bike from Hoi An. Da Nang is also the point where you should apply for your Laos visa.

There’s a 12 hour night bus going from Ninh Binh to Hoi An. Even though this journey seems quite long it was much better than the 7 hour busses I took before, as rather than being thrown off the bus at 5 am we arrived at 11 am instead, had breakfast and could then check in to our hostel.

Hoi An Beach Fisherman Vegan Restaurant
Fisherman Vegan Restaurant at the beach
Hoi An Ricefields
Rice fields of Hoi An

Laos

Laos is a huge adventure destination in Southeast Asia for backpackers and individual travellers! Compared to its neighbours Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos is the least developed and touristy country. It strikes with beautiful landscape, lush and green mountains and is a paradise for those who love view points and hiking. The Laotians are friendly, the dishes super delicious and the prices very cheap.

I entered Laos as south as possible, coming from Hoi An in Vietnam to Pakse and crossing at the Lao Bao border by bus. It’s a long journey with 26 hours from door to door, but flying is too expensive and not the most ecological alternative.

Cost overview

  • Average price for accommodation per night: 4 Euros / person
  • Average price for one meal: 3 Euros / meal
Cost Overview Laos
Total costs Laos 2023 broken down into categories

Visa information

A 30 day visa for Laos costs 30 USD and can either be obtained beforehand in one of the embassies in Vietnam or otherwise when doing the border crossing. To have a smoother journey I got my Laos visa in Da Nang. On the bus from Hoi An to Pakse there were many people getting the visa on arrival which was also no problem at the Lao Bao border.

Find out more about getting your visa for Laos in Vietnam!

Suggested Route Laos

1. Pakse

Pakse is one of the bigger cities in the south of Laos. There’s not much to do in the city itself but it’s the hub to go further south to the 4000 islands. Therefore I recommend to only stay for one or two days. You can rent a scooter and drive to one of the surrounding waterfalls or Wat Phousalao, a buddhist temple which gives a nice view over the Mekong river. In general, walking along the river is quite nice. The best sunset are at the rooftop restaurant of Pakse Hotel.

  • Low-budget accommodation: 1918 Hostel
  • Suggested duration: 1-2 days
Pakse Laos
Riding along the Mekong river
Pakse Laos
In the back you can see Wat Phousalao
2. 4000 islands: Don Det

Also referred as ‘Si Phan Don’, the 4000 islands is an area of tiny islands scattered in the Mekong Delta. Most of them are kept uninhabited, other ones have local villages on them. Even though they are located far south, the 4000 islands are worth a visit!

Don Det is the more touristy island with restaurants and many accommodation options. You can do kayaking trips, go tubing or cycle to the waterfalls (Li Phi Somphamit, No Name). The atmosphere on Don Det is very relaxed and laid back – island feeling in a land locked country.

Don Det Laos
Don Det
Liphi Waterfall Don Det
Li Phi Waterfall
3. Volunteering on Don Nangloy

To make the journey more wholesome I decided to do another volunteer project in Laos. In the beginning of April it was also quite smokey in the north due to the burning season so I wanted to stay in the south for a bit longer and wait for the smoke to clear. I can’t recommend the volunteer project I did but if you would like to do something meaningful during your time in Laos maybe have a look at Workaway for open volunteer placements.

  • Suggested duration: 7 days
4. Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is a small town lying on the Nam Song River. It’s surrounded by beautiful mountains and many lagoons. As I wasn’t to keen on going to another city (temperatures were around 40 degrees every day!) I skipped the capital Vientiane and went straight to Vang Vieng. There is a night bus going from Pakse to Vientiane and then a two hour mini bus continuing to Vang Vieng.

What are the best things to do in Vang Vieng? I loved the Nam Xay Viewpoint as well as Lagoon 3 and 6 (swimming in there is so refreshing!). You can also do some kayaking on the river or go on a hot air balloon ride.

Lagoon 6 Vang Vieng
Blue Lagoon 6
Nam Xay Viewpoint Vang Vieng
Nam Xay Viewpoint
5. Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a bigger city in the northern mountainous region of Laos. From Vang Vieng it’s a five hour ride by mini van. My highlights were the Kuang Si Waterfalls and Mount Phousi viewpoint. The waterfalls spread over multiple levels and are just so pretty. On the way there you walk through the Free the bears sanctuary. You don’t need to buy tickets to see some of the bears but it’s always welcome to leave a donation. The waterfalls are a 45 minute drive from Luang Prabang. The area can only be entered with a ticket and there is an electric bus which takes you to from the parking lot to the waterfall area. Mount Phousi is a nice spot to overlook the city of Luang Prabang and enjoy the sunset.

Royal Palace Luang Prabang
Royal Palace Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang
Views from Mount Phousi
Free the Bears Rescue
Free the Bears Rescue
Kung Si Waterfalls Luang Prabang
Kuang Si Waterfalls
6. Nong Khiaw

Nong Khiaw was one of my favourite stops in Laos! The town itself is small and one of the less busy touristy locations. The activities around Nong Khiaw are mostly about hiking and exploring viewpoints. The best one in town is the Nong Khiaw Viewpoint. I can also recommend to join a one day adventure tour. You will be taken to a remote village by boat to explore a cave and a waterfall. After visiting a local farm you then kayak some of the way back to Nong Khiaw. It was a great day shared with other travellers! I booked the tour through NK Adventure Tours. From Luang Prabang it only takes around 3 hours by mini van to get to Nong Khiaw.

Nong Khiaw
Water buffalos at the side of the river
Nong Khiaw Viewpoint
Nong Khiaw from above
7. Huay Xai & Gibbon Experience

Huay Xai, right next to the border to Thailand, marks the last stop of this three months trip. The town Huay Xai itself is cute but not spectacular. But it’s the hub to one of the best experiences I’ve ever done – the absolute highlight of Laos: The Gibbon Experience. You will hike to a tree house, sleep in the jungle for three days and zipline around during the day. In the morning you can hear the Gibbons singing and if you’re lucky you will even spot them jumping through the trees! This trip was like a childhood dream coming true.

Click here to find out more about getting from Nong Khiaw to Huay Xai!

The Gibbon Experience in Laos features the world’s highest tree houses. They are connected to the jungle by ziplines, so you will get to fly through the forest canopies. The Gibbon Experience is a conservation project located in a National Park. It’s truly amazing – you get to live in a beautiful tree house, fall asleep and wake up to the sound of the jungle, and do lots of ziplining and jungle trekking during the day. If you decide to join, I can highly recommend to do the three day trip and enjoy the full experience.

Low-budget accommodation: Oudomphone Guesthouse

  • Suggested duration: 3-5 days
Gibbon Experience Tree House
The tree house
Gibbon Experience Jungle Views
Views from my bed

Final thoughts

This route contained all stops and highlights I can recommend to see when travelling Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos! In total I spent around 2.100 Euros for the whole trip (excluding flights to and from Thailand). The volunteer projects were a great way to slow down the travels a bit and get a different experience away from the typical tourist path. I love getting to know the culture and in touch with the locals.

Read more about how I felt after six months of full-time travelling!

After Huay Xai you could continue to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand and then either go back to Bangkok or travel further south. In general, Bangkok is a good point to start and end this loop and either fly back home or continue the journey.

Overall I’m glad to take one month for each country. They’re too beautiful to rush through! Also when we slow down the travels we can pay more attention and observe what’s around us. I hope I could give you some inspiration for your trip & would love to hear more about it in the comments below.

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