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Helping the prospective travel planner

Posted by BruceMoon on 22/7/2009 at 07:47


I am making this ‘post’ to explain a point of view, and hopefully help those that are new to travel in SE Asia.

All too often I read contributions on these Travelfish pages where a prospective traveller seeks to visit an amazing number of places in a relatively short period of time.

Often, these prospective travellers have spent much time searching through Travelfish. It appears to me, the searching has revealing places to visit and the prospective traveller appears to have overlooked what they are actually going to do in each of the places.

To my way of thinking, and from years of experience, travel is always a competition between two components: places to visit and experiences to soak up, enjoy, and remember.

Places to visit.

There is no doubt that when you sit down to rough out a journey plan, there WILL be many places on your WISH LIST.

When reading about potential places, every travel recommendation makes that place sound so compelling. Remember that travel is an industry, and getting YOU to that place to spend your money is the travel promoter’s job.

A major problem is that travel is time consuming, often boring, mentally and physically taxing, costly, and tends to make the traveller irritated (even argumentative). Did I mention time consuming and irritable-making.

The problem facing the travel planner will always be finding ways to link these various must see places up in the shortest time possible.

But, travel is not only the time from A to B. It is also the time needed to get to the travel departure point, it’s the waiting time at the departure point, the time needed to plan for breakdowns/delays, and the time needed to get from the destination drop off point to the accommodation. For example, a one hour flight between Bangkok and Siem Reap will ‘take up’ at least 5 hours of your day - maybe more.

Another problem of travel - especially in the backblocks of SE Asia - is that it can be downright uncomfortable. Many SE Asian buses (and boats) have seats designed to cater for the smaller and thinner Asian body frame. Leg-room can also be a squeeze. These seats can be really uncomfortable over long distances.

Another problem of travel is that unless the journey is a nightmare, it tends not to be memorable.

IMHO, a trip on a bus is a means to get from A to B. Because scenery is just flashing by, its sort of like watching TV commercials: they attract for the seconds you watch, but you forget when the next frame comes to the eye. Simply, for fast bus travel, you tend not to remember what you saw 5 minutes ago. Sure, you can team up with people to have fun, but you do that because the scenery out the window goes on relentlessly - simply put, you quickly get bored with the scenery.

An alternate problem of travel is that too much air travel means you miss out on experiencing the local flavour of the bus/boat journey. Travellers that merely visit cities, and fly between can’t really say they have experienced the Asian way of life: land based travel is part and parcel of the Asian way of life. But, to the prospective traveller, a compromise needs to be reached where air travel forms parts of the journey as does bus/boat travel.

Travelfish recommends not trying to do too much travel. If you haven’t read the suggestions in the grey section up above, go read these words of advice and also this advice

Things to do/experience.

This is where the whole travel planning bit comes unstuck.

One can't just go to some city/place/ etc., and expect to immediately get a taste of the experiences described on Travelfish ages, or elsewhere. All too often, the experiences you read about come about BECAUSE the person telling about it spent time in an area and became savvy to learning about the right places to be in at the right time, etc.. This ‘learning’ takes time.

For example, soaking up the sun on a quiet beach in SE Asia is delightful. But, that experience requires being at a place without hordes of others, being there on a nice sunny day (ie. not raining, etc.), being there at the right time of year when the ocean is just oh so perfect, finding a beach that has a nice array of food/beverage options, but not too many.

Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect about the relationship between visiting a place and experiencing it is that the flavour of the place lies not within the places travellers often congregate. Explaining this, many travellers spend time in the Guest House, or western café, or internet café (etc.). But these places are merely a convenience for travellers and cater to the wants of the traveller. They rarely contain the flavour of the place. Put this another way, a city is merely a bunch of buildings. Take the people away and its nothing but bricks and concrete. So, the flavour of the place is the local people. And, the flavour of the people are to be found in places like the marketplace, in the side streets away from the western traveller glare (where people are going on with their lives), and very much in the small village communities that surround the cities.

Also, the flavour of the place can sometimes be found in the day trips offered to the traveller. In this regard be careful of the day trips where you sit in a bus all day. Make sure the day trip has you out of the bus and either engaging with local people, or doing fun activities like trekking, rafting, or elephant riding, etc.: (these are the memories that will last long after the travel part of the journey is forgotten).

Experiencing a place is not always as you’d imagined it may be. But, unless you plan to spend time in a place to experience it, you won’t have too many memories.

The compromise.

At some time in your planning process, I suggest you are going to have to face the fact that seeing many places versus experiencing the places will be a major compromise.

As far as compromise goes, only you can choose. But, to my way of thinking, you should be choosing more time experiencing places and less time travelling to/from places.

In case you need to take another ‘angle’ on this, try thinking ONE region per WEEK and at a minimum TWO or THREE regions per country.

Hope this helps.


- - - -

ps. to other Travelfish contributors, please don't criticise aspects of what I have written. I am trying to help those seeking to have a great time travelling. If you can make positive suggestions that add to this post, please feel free.

On this post, criticisms merely denigrate the intention.


#1 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by smash on 22/7/2009 at 08:16

Great post Bruce! I'm (unfortunately to some I guess) one of those travellers that loves ticking boxes. The world is a big place and I've got lots of places I want to visit which means I generally don't foresee myself being back visiting the same countries any time soon. :o)

#2 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162

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Posted by whiteelephant on 22/7/2009 at 17:53

Yes it's a good post, but i think some of your posts are really long and while I know we're you're coming from, some people (me included) just glaze over and skip down to something more succinct.

I think anyone who has been on Travel Fish for more than a couple of days knows you like to travel slow etc, but not everyone has that option and I don't think it is fair to make peeps feel bad about traveling that way.

As others have said, "Less is more" says pretty much the same as what it took you over 1,100 words to say.

#3 whiteelephant has been a member since 22/7/2009. Posts: 15

Posted by BruceMoon on 22/7/2009 at 18:16


Yep, horses for courses.

But, as you've written elsewhere, you are not an inexperienced traveller: obviously just a different one.


Your point re: succinctness is valid.

However, the post above is intended for the specific purpose of not having to repeat myself so many times. Where I figure the content may help someone, I'll merely make reference.

That said, as an (ex) University lecturer, I suggest those that skim over most often miss the necessary detail to comprehend the whole. As they say the devil is in the detail.

But thanks guys for the comments.


#4 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by BruceMoon on 11/8/2009 at 09:31

And, there's more

In recent dialogue, another important point has become prominent and, to my mind, warrants your consideration.

Many people write that they want to go to some place, but when pushed, can't explain why they want to go there except that someone told me its good or I read all these wonderful things about it or similar.

When I suggest one region per week, what I didn't say was that when selecting a place to stop for a week or so, work out what you'll actually be doing for that week.

Just because a place sounds fun, it may not be for you.

As an example, many travellers want to go to Vang Vieng in Laos. Thay've heard the water 'fun' is SO worth it. In so doing, they schedule an ALL DAY bus trip from Luang Prabang , spend one day doing the water fun, then hop on another bus for a nearly whole day trip to Vientiane . I've even seen one person schedule 4 days travel to spend one day at Vang Vieng.

Putting this into perspective, for many years, the tedium of long dusty and tiring bus trips between Vientiane and Luang Prabang was broken by a stopover at Vang Vieng; and frolicking in the river. The 'frolicking in the river' has now become cause celebre rather than a diversion along the way.

The point here is the prospective traveller can be so besotted with an idea, they lose perspective of the journey - which is to enjoy oneself.

- - -

So, when looking at an area / region for a week or so, work out what activities you are likely to be doing.

It's unwise for me to say Oh, you should do this or that as I will have different tastes.

Rather, go look here on Travelfish at the Sights and Attractions section for each place, go look on the net, and/or ask others.

Build yourself a list of possible options that you could enjoy at the destination. Having a list that is greater than the time allocated means you'll not be wanting for ideas. It also means you can adapt as you fell like it on the day/etc.

In so doing, you'll not only be preparing yourself to enjoy your time there, but also, if you have to choose between two places/regions, you'll have a researched reason as to why.


#5 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by BruceMoon on 30/8/2009 at 07:09

And, adding more...

Lisa (busylizzy) gave some good advice along the lines of this thread, but with a different perspective. Her post is here @ #6 But, I am copying it here:

Written by Lisa:

For me, every experience (whether good or bad at the time) is all part of the travel experience. The main consideration is to do your research so that you have realist expectations.

- don't overplan your trip. Have a rough outline of where you think you're going, but be flexible enough to change it on a whim when you find something that grabs your interest, often off the beaten track.

- read up on the different scams that are out there to help you avoid the worst of them

- understand that getting from A to B is not always as simple as jumping on a bus. Those bus rides can be some of the worst experiences you'll have. But.... the worse the bus ride, the better the story you have to share later! You need to understand that they break down, they are overcrowded, they are hot and stuffy, they play atrociously loud and violent DVD's dubbed in bad English, they break down, they are over crowded - and did I mention that they break down and are overcrowded??)

- be sure to build in some relaxation time into your itinerary. Aim to spend a minimum of 2 nights (preferably 3) at most places. Packing and unpacking, and scouting out new accommodation every day and constantly being on the move can be exhausting and unrewarding. Be sure to take the time to ENJOY what you are seeing.

- don't worry about doing all the travel guide 'must sees'. One person's idea of a 'must see' may not be YOUR idea of a 'must see'. Work out what it of interest to YOU.

- remember this is YOUR adventure. It should not be about how many countries you've seen or what distance you have travelled, or seeing what all the guidebooks suggest you see. It should be about enjoying the experience, learning about the people that you meet and their culture, and experiencing a bit of life in the country(s) that you are visiting. Slow it down and ENJOY your adventure. Aim for quality, not quantity. (This is something I know, but still struggle with when I know that there is so much to see in a limited timeframe.)



#6 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by Lorimar on 7/6/2012 at 13:37

What EXCELLENT advice concerning squeezing too much in. I have placed some posts in the "Southeast Asia" section of the forum. (We are a middle-aged fit couple from Montreal, Canada, going to SEA for 3-1/2 weeks in July, trying to see and experience what we can considering how far we live and how expensive the flights are). I am a seasoned traveller and couldn't agree more about the experience. That being said, here is my biggest frustration: Our original (ignorant) plan was basically this: land in Bangkok, go to Chang Mai, then to Laos (Vientienne, Lauang Prabang) then to Hanoi, Halong Bay area, Hoi An, Hue, HCM City, then to Cambodia (Siem Reep, Phnom Pen) then back to Thailand and home.

I realize it's way too much, but WHAT DO WE CUT OUT??? Who knows when we'll be back there? Everytime I think of giving something up, my husband disagrees and prefers to give up something else. Example: I really want to spend a few days in Laos and maybe give up Cambodia - he wants the opposite!

I would like to know if there are some "hubs" meaning, places to stay in a certain region where we can take day trips to adjacent areas. For example, in V.N., can we stay in one place for a few days around Hanoi, Hué or Hoi An, and do day excursions in that area, or are those 3 places too far apart for this to happen. I am essentially trying to figure out how to "bundle" a few places together to spend some time without having to sleep in a different place every night.

#7 Lorimar has been a member since 5/6/2012. Posts: 5

Posted by shaka317 on 7/6/2012 at 14:19

Wow, this post couldn't have come along at a better time! It's true that when you're coming from the other side of the world, you want to do and see and go as much as possible, but reality is. . . we want to love our trip as much as the people who post how much they loved it! This was definitely a reality check, so thanks! We're gonna slow it down a bit . . .For 24 days in August, we're heading to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and somewhere in the southern beach region, but not sure where yet! (Maybe squeeze in Angkor Wat, too!) Hope this isn't too much!

#8 shaka317 has been a member since 3/5/2012. Posts: 5

Posted by MADMAC on 8/6/2012 at 03:56

4 days in Angkor, a week in Bangkok, five or so days in Chiang Mai, a week on the beach. Perfect.

#9 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by HeatherM on 10/7/2012 at 06:07

Bruce, You seem to be the perfect person to talk to about travel. I'm a 20yo Irish girl travelling Asia for the 1st time come October. Most people i chat to tell me I NEED to party here or surf there but truth being i just want to take my time and see the routes less travelled. I have a vauge outline of where to be and when, I plan to live cheap and just enjoy the Asian lifestyle and the sights (whilst trying to avoid living amongst all the other "gap-yearers"). So any little tips on local living, travel essentials etc will be warmly welcomed. Heather.

#10 HeatherM has been a member since 9/7/2012. Posts: 2

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 24/7/2012 at 18:51

I think the problem comes done to people thinking seeing more is better when really you should be aiming at travel areas that have activities you enjoy most. If you like walking in the jungle do a trek but don't do something because some guidebook recommends it.

I see people wanting to visit the FMP and lose 3 days doing so and then they say they don't even like drinking that much. They seem to think because it's famous it's worth doing. That's mindless travel. Or people want to see the bridge over river Kwai. The bridge itself is lame but the surrounding area is nice.

If you plan a holiday around things you like rather than things that are famous then you'll enjoy a trip more.

#11 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
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Posted by Saphir on 26/11/2012 at 01:04

Just see what you want to see and do what you want to do without upsetting anyone. I went to Vang Vieng and did not frolic in the water. I stayed across the road from Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and did not visit. The things I like to do may not suit everyone. What does it matter to anyone but myself?

#12 Saphir has been a member since 19/5/2009. Posts: 74
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