When I read the words in a recent online post, “I am planning on traveling from the US for three weeks with a 14-year-old,” I raised my eyebrows. For some parents, the thought of keeping their teenage child entertained for three weeks abroad fills them with dread. But this parent (let's call her Pat) has chosen Southeast Asia as their destination, and I am envious. So, what should Pat do? Here are some insights for any budding Southeast Asia visitor.
Calling Southeast Asians
Pat reveals the plan — visit three countries in three weeks, and she suggests Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand are penciled in. However, she wants a second opinion from more experienced travelers or residents. Three countries would naturally equate to six days in each country, losing one day to transit and recuperation. Furthermore, Pat wants a blend of beach, outdoor adventure, culture, and historical enlightenment. The good news is that Pat potentially has three of the greatest weeks of her life ahead of her.
Packed With Fun
I lived in Vietnam for four glorious years, so I am biased. However, this parent is about to give their kid a memorable adventure they won't forget — South East Asia is packed with stunning, fun locations that cater to all needs. Whether you want to kick back on a white sandy beach or find enlightenment in a temple, there is no end to the holiday possibilities.
Three Weeks of Fun
If the expanded itinerary isn't viable, a great journey would be as follows: Starting in Hanoi, they could head to Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island, then fly down to Hoi An for a day before flying to Saigon. After this, a day or two in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for some temples and boat markets, then up to Siem Reap to enjoy a few days at Angkor Wat — which they will need. Finally, before a night or two enjoying Bangkok's street food markets, they could go north to Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, for the excellent hiking and waterfalls. The obvious way to conclude would be to fly south for the remainder, relaxing on the beach or taking boat trips to Thailand's many islands. I'm not jealous; who's jealous?
Why Not Try Malaysia?
Malaysians have much to offer the modern teenager: with a major industrialized city such as Kuala Lumpur the perfect launch pad to visit other regions. Malaysia has the perfect blend of beaches, cities, and jungles for the ideal itinerary. Also, with world-class diving and snorkeling across the country's hundreds of islands, the only drawback is that one week isn't enough.
How About Indonesia?
Like its eastern neighbor, Malaysia, Indonesia has wild adventures most teenagers will only dream of. Who wouldn't want to visit orangutans one moment and then come face-to-face with Komodo dragons the next? Furthermore, Indonesia boasts some of the world's most mind-blowing beaches, mountain ranges, and rainforests — Pat's son will return to America feeling like Indiana Jones.
Three Weeks and Five Countries
Some hyperactive pilgrims would abandon the three-country plan altogether, though they might have a point: Southeast Asian countries have plentiful cheap airlines like AirAsia, Bamboo Airways, and Lion Airlines. Hopping between countries is affordable, while car or motorbike hire is cheap once you arrive. Why not spend four days in each place and take five countries in?
Two Countries Will Suffice
Where box-ticking scattergun tourists do their utmost to see everything, seasoned travelers will always recommend the less-is-more approach. You will miss a country's real vibe if you try to see too much. How about ten days in Vietnam and ten in Thailand? I won't lie; Cambodia is still a developing nation, so it can be tough-going in places. However, might I suggest the unmissable Angkor Wat for two days sandwiched between the aforementioned countries?
Helpful thread posters allude to vaccinations being important before hitting this region, including malaria, elephantiasis, and Japanese encephalitis. However, one must plan these jabs in good time to secure insurance validation. In addition, two of the three-country odyssey require visas, so visitors must prepare for some lengthy waits — pertinent advice with a jetlagged teenager involved.
North to South Instead
Having lived in the region and seen most of its spectacular sites, I would choose an unfamiliar three-country approach. My journey would begin in the furthest northern Asian country, Mongolia. Next on the itinerary, somewhere in the middle, like Taiwan, with the journey concluding at the southernmost point of Timor. My reason for this bizarre route: Why not?
Just Go to the Philippines
Pat's description of her son's needs would all be easily met with a three-week adventure in the Philippines. With 7,641 islands, the Philippines presents a diverse set of activities. With major cities like Manila and Cebu City, cultural tours are never far away, but outdoor pursuits are possible with mountain ranges and jungles. One week is necessary to enjoy Palawan Island alone — its Unesco-status wildlife reserves, underground rivers, mountains, beaches, and ecotourism opportunities make for breathtaking adventures.
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