Photo by Pai

Exploring Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos grants a deeper view of the world and its many cultures

For many, purchasing a souvenir on vacation is a no-brainer. Whether a T-shirt, a craft or even just a postcard, there’s something special about bringing a piece of that place home. But, according to travel advisor Tiffany Ellis of Tiffany Ellis Travel, souvenirs don’t have to only be physical things. In fact, it’s often better if they aren’t.

“I love the idea of transformative travel,” she explains. “This, to me, means how can I make memories from a destination. Whether it be a family bonding vacation, a honeymoon or for the solo adventurer, there’s something special you can take home from a destination.”

While these valuable memories can be made on any trip, Ellis has her sights set on Southeast Asia.

Women weaving fishing baskets in Thy Sy village in Vietnam. Photo by Kapook2981

“I would love to visit Thailand, adding on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, since I would already be that way,” Ellis says. “Southeast Asia is so distant, different and otherworldly. I’ve planned trips for clients to these countries and have always been in awe of the adventure that awaits.”

From mountains to beaches, the region is rich and diverse, offering travelers an abundance of experiences, all of which are steeped in local culture. There’s ancient ruins, bustling markets and plenty of wildlife to engage with. And according to Ellis, the more excursions the better, making this the ideal trip for eager and active adventurers.

Floating market in Vietnam. Photo by Bartosz Hadyniak

“I believe every trip should have an educational component,” Ellis explains. “Even if you aren’t a lover of tours, when you’re immersed in a culture, you appreciate a new perspective—a respect for indigenous communities, the land, the wildlife, the fragile ecosystem. Perspective teaches us the ‘give and take’ in travel. We take from the new places we visit, but we should also give back to them. Many educational components include community service projects or visiting an animal refuge whereby your visit donation will help rehabilitation and rescue efforts.”

Golden pagoda at Phra That Doi Suthep Temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo by Nuwat

In order to make the most of a trip to Southeast Asia, Ellis recommends designating at least two weeks, making this trip ideal for adventurous retirees or solo travelers who can work remotely. However, she notes, the experiences are unmatched for anyone willing and able to take the time to venture across the globe.

“A trip like this feels so different and significant,” Ellis says. “It’s a great way to understand other cultures, and see how different groups of people live. Gustave Flaubert said, ‘Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.’”

The ruins of Vat Phou, a Khmer Hindu temple, is located in southern Laos and is one of Southeast Asia’s oldest worship sites. Photo by Gianni Ridolfi

The Rundown


End of November through the end of February


No less than 2 weeks


8 to 9 months for the best availability and pricing

High Points

Cruise on the Mekong River

Ellis suggests this for a land and sea combination experience. Ranging from 3 to 8 days in length, the cruises focus on the lower river section of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. “These boats are converted rice barges and are so intimate and unique,” she says. “They meander along and across the boarder into Cambodia.”

Mekong River. Photo by Jacus

Visit local villages, markets and archeological sites in each of the four countries

Go biking and see incredible wildlife

Give back to the community by visiting an elephant or other animal refuge

Explore Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Built in the 12th century as a Hindu temple, the massive structure, spanning over 2.4 acres in size, is the largest religious building in the world.

Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Photo by Mlenny