Yyyep, that's what I'm calling it. Freedom Backpacking! Heh. Probably what you regulars have been doing all the while, but then yours truly is a planning freak deluxe a la grande. And whenever I've travelled around Eastern Europe (am a lad based out of London) I've been the one planning out every single last detail of the holiday for my friends and myself.. from where to stay, what to do, when to do it, the tips, tricks and secrets, even prepping locals via C0uchsurfing, WAYN and other websites (and now discovered TravelFish :-D ) and hooking up with them for a party - all of it.
For the first time I am going to get off that plane in S.E Asia with barely a plan in mind and all alone. Just my backpack and a triple helping of enthusiasm. Plenty of ideas in the threads that are already here, plenty enough to start me off on my "bare minimum" planning anyways. Will be heading to India for a bit from the end of August 2012 and then onto S.E Asia for a good two to three months. Maybe celebrate NYE somewhere nice. Eventually end up in New Zealand to begin a two year working holiday.
I've started this thread to, for starters, thank the creators of this website. Great job folks! A proper S.E Asia treasure trove here. I would like to keep this as a running thread throughout my planning process so anyone else who comes up with the next "..so please make my entire itinerary for me.." thread can read and benefit from it. Plus as my travel plans take shape, the regulars in here can chop, change and correct me when I go wrong (Thank You :) ).
So here we go! First off, am trying to chalk out flight plans. Next, getting used to places and names using G00gle Maps. Then once I've got an idea of what the region looks like, will get into planning the travels - but not too much in detail!
It's going to be one wild ride.
Step-1 Booking Flights:
Had a look on the Flyer Talk forums. Looks like most peeps there are frequent flyers and it's full of technical jargon. Quite intimidating for a newbie like me asking for tips on the best flight plan, what air pass to take - if any and which airlines to take it from.
Am looking to make the most of the air miles in travelling to the region so will have to do some more digging around. I do have one question for this forum:
"How much does one need flights to travel around S.E Asia?"
Having read some of the recent posts it looks like there are jungle trains, bus rides and indeed motorcycles available for commute between and within countries. Does that mean I just take one flight into say Thailand and take the land and sea (i.e. local ferries) routes from there for the whole region? More scenic and more backpacker oriented. Is that do-able or are there places where I just have to book flights to go to?
It's hard to answer without knowing your rough itinerary plans and your budget. I get your enthusiasm, but not much else about your plans!
You can probably get to just about anywhere within SEA overland if you want. Burma is the exception - you will most likely need to arrive by air. The rest of the time, it depends on three things: your tolerance for long bus/train rides, how much time you have available and how much you are prepared to pay. Personally, if a journey is going to be more than 8-9 hours (unless it's an overnight one) and if it's not ridiculously expensive, I'm often tempted to fly, or maybe split the trip into two by overnighting it somewhere. But what's cheap (or even reasonable) to me may be expensive to you, so it's a hard one to advise on. I use Air Asia for of my SEA 'internal flights' where possible as they are normally the cheapest. Jetstar is another option for some routes. But some routes will only be serviced by the more expensive national airlines (eg many routes to/from and within Laos).
There is definitely merit in going overland where possible: cost, scenery and the opportunity to mix with locals. But be careful not to underestimate some of the journeys! Do your research so that you know what to expect. Don't ever expect to be told the trust about journey times by people selling you the tickets!
Thanks for the heads up Liz. Good point about stating the budget as that does affect most travel plans doesn't it lol
I'm not on a shoe string budget. Not on a five star one either. Plenty enough to take flights where necessary. Am not looking to rough it by spending all day in trains and buses unless the stops/views along the way make it worth it.
Idea is to travel "backpacker style" for the experience but not "roughing it" like a student on a gap year budget. If that make any sense? :-)
Looks like flights will be necessary to go from one part of the S.E Asian region to another, and then local trains and maybe short bus rides to explore the local area around there.
For example, one tentative itinerary I first thought of was:
Land in Bangkok (so that the 30 day visa for air travellers can be taken) -> next stop Chiang Mai (by train?) -> Cross the border to Luang Prabang in Laos (again, train here or would a flight be necessary?) -> Into Vietnam by heading to Hanoi (train or flight?) -> certainly a flight down to Ho Chi Minh city from there, looks too far away on the map -> Onwards to Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh with a side trip to Seam Reap (not sure of specifics yet but looks like a stay in Seam Reap as opposed to just a day trip could be possible) -> Fly out of Cambodia and onwards to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Most of the names of places I have flouted above are ones I picked up from other posts in the forum.. had no idea about the region before Travelfish!
That is just a very rough itinerary that takes me in a circle around the region, looks do-able and seems to check most of the boxes on the "must visit places in S.E Asia" checklist. Am fully flexible on the travel plans and happy to get off the beaten path for odd stops and stays along the way. Some more reading of the forum's posts will give me even more information on other places to see and stay in, I am sure. As will my fellow travellers from youth hostels and hotels that I will no doubt hook up with.
So it looks like you are focusing on key cities in each country - that will entail more flights. Given the time you have available, though, it seems to me that you will miss out on the what real 'richness' the countries have to offer. For example, in Vietnam - you mention Hanoi , then fly to HCMC. Obviously (to me at least!) that would require a flight. But why not take longer, and do more of it overland, and see what else Vietnam has to offer aside from crowded cities?
For example fly from Hanoi to Hue (it's a long haul otherwise). Then travel overland by bus/train to Hoi An, Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Dalat and continue down to HCMC. From there, overland through the Mekong Delta into Cambodia.
To be honest, it sounds like money is at your disposal, which is fine. But rather than worry about the number of flights and logistics, figure out what it is you actually want to see. Work out the sort of travel you like: adventure? trekking? cultural? big cities, beaches, remote villages? Popular tourist trail or off the beaten track? Temples? Then read up about what the different countries have to offer and see what grabs your interest the most. Don't try to do it all - focus on what really grabs you and gets your heart racing. Whatever you do, don't just follow the itineraries written up by others without understanding them.
Go to the Planning section on site to get a feel for things - there are a bunch of Suggested Itineraries that are helpful to get your head around how to approach the area. At the bottom of each page is a table of travel options and times (ie plane -vs- bus -vs- train, etc). That will help you appreciate what a big area it is.
BTW - you indicate that you will land in Bkk because of the 30-day visa option. But if you are only going to Chiang Mai before heading into Laos, I doubt that you will need to the 30 day visa option. So the logic of flying to Bkk doesn't hold up. Not saying it's a bad idea, but the reasoning that you provide doesn't add up. So maybe that provides you alternatives worth considering. (eg maybe fly into Hanoi if possible, then make your way down through Vietnam, over to Cambodia and on to Thailand. In Thailand, make your way to Chiang Mai if you want then fly to Malaysia as per your plan.
I'm not saying it's a better itinerary - but it's one to consider since the 30-day visa may not be relevant to you.
BTW - you have also mentioned all the countries that you want to visit in your last post. That's a heck of a lot of visa stamps in your passport for 2-3 months. 7 countries if I added it up right. Don't even try it - it's not doable. Or you going to be throwing a bucket load of money at flights, and spending 30% of your time hanging around airports. And you're not spending any meaningful time anywhere and it all becomes a blur.
Read through the forums as you said you would. You will see the gazillion posts that I and other TF'ers have repeatedly made about the ridiculousness of this. Figure out the priorities, don't over plan it. 1-2 countries per month max if you want a higher quality, enriching experience. Or go for the 7 countries if you're running an Amazing Race or entering a competition for the most visa stamps in shortest time.
Going from N. Thailand to Luang Prabang can be done by boat on the Mekong or by air from Chiang Mai (Lao Airlines). I would not attempt the trip from Luang Prabang to Hanoi overland unless you enjoy the rugged/uncomfortable bus rides - again you can take Lao Airlines (cheaper) or Vietnam Airlines.
In Vietnam, I also like to fly (train is fine for shorter distances). You have your choice of 4 domestic carriers here (Vietnam Air, Vietjet Air, Air Mekong and Jetstar Pacific). I would avoid Jetstar - one delay after another! I like to book online direct with the airlines - no problems so far for me.
I'm doing Bangkok-Vientaine-Luang Prabang-Hanoi later this year - trip #5 to SE Asia.
Liz, that suggested itinerary planning section is P.U.R.E G.O.L.D. I can't believe I didn't look at it earlier! I would like to request the admins to put a link to that section in bold with every welcome email. And put a sticky thread at the start of every forum section pointing to it. Thank You so much for pointing me that way.
I've now got an idea of how I want my trip to pan out. Time I've got plenty of. Money, enough to get around. The Pound Sterling goes far in S.E Asia.
Of what I personally look for in a holiday, it's quite simple. I go for three things: Social, Adventure activities and Culture. Social for me means being around people and making new friends (as opposed to sitting with a good book on a hammock with my feet in water enjoying "tranquil" surroundings for days on end.. I could enjoy two hours of that max before I go into shock and start looking for the next group of people to go say hello to).
Adventure activities to me are things like learning to SCUBA dive, treks on Elephant back through forests, that zip line park near Chiang Mai , boat trips on a river (only a few hours long though.. not days) through some amazing jungles/villages/scenery, heading into the jungle to jump into some remote waterfall - have a barbecue and a few beers there with friends, Thailand island party life - a vibrant nightlife plays an important part as I love the bar scene :-D
Culture wise I am looking at foods - the strange, the weird and the downright cringe worthy, markets, one odd sleepy little village in the middle of nowhere (one in each country for the experience.. do the whole "I slept on the floor in a bamboo hut" experience for a night), making some local friends (in cities - local professionals in their 20's and 30's - but hey we work with what we get. Sites like C0uchsurfing should help) and discoveries that I make along the way.
As with everything, depending on the kind of fellow travellers and/or locals I make friends with along the way, plans could change slightly.
Itinerary wise it is now shaping out to be as follows (tentative):
Thailand - Bangkok (2-3 days), flight upto Chiang Mai (2-3 days) - maybe one or two escapes into the country side from there for a few days, flight to Luang Prabang - short boat trips in and around Luang Prabang (2-3 days), party life and err.. culture in Vang Vieng (3-4 days), Vietnam visa and a few days in Vientiane (2-3 days), flight to Hanoi (2-3 days), make my own way to Ha long Bay and find a tour there (2-3 days), make my way down to Saigon/HCMC as per Liz's recommendations above, into Cambodia - Phnom Penh (2-3 days), Seam Reap (2-3 days), back into Thailand and this time it's time for partaayy in the islands - Full Moon Party for sure in Ko Pha-ngan (by this time it is probably NYE so might be prudent to book up accommodation now! - might have some friends from the UK fly down to join me on this one) and a few other islands etc based on what happens locally when I'm there or on other reviews that I read up here.
Then onwards to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Phillipines. Still need to plan that bit out.
Accommodation throughout would be in youth hostels and 2 star hotels - where hostels are unavailable. Idea is to meet and mingle with the backpacker community big time.
Thinking of getting a Discovery Air Pass or something similar for the flights.
How does that look like?
Quick note about my transport plans (including trains) in the region.
I found this website called Seat61 which has detailed information about train journeys (and in some cases, like Cambodia, bus journeys as well) in the region. They have even provided photographs of the insides of many of the trains.
Travel plans wise, looks like I will be getting a flight into Bangkok, an overnight sleeper to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, flight into Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai (Discovery pass), bus down to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang, bus down to Vientiane from Vang Vieng, flight to Hanoi from Vientiane (Discovery pass), train from Hanoi to Nha Trang (with maybe hop offs in Hue and Hoi An along the train line), Motorcycle from Nha Trang to Da Lat (not sure if I want to motorcycle it all the way to Saigon.. or take a bus from Da Lat. Recommendations? Idea is to hire the bike in Nha Trang and return it in Da Lat - or Saigon if I go all the way there), bus into Phnom Penh from Saigon, bus to Seam Reap from Phnom Penh, flight from Seam Reap to Bangkok (Discovery pass), train from Bangkok to Chumphon or Surat Thani and ferry from there to Ko Pha-ngan, once done with the islands - might visit more than just Ko Pha-ngan will take the train from Chumphon or Surat Thani down to KL (via Penang so might stop there for a few days). From KL I either visit Brunei (not sure how, ferry or flight) or Singapore by train.
From Singapore the idea is to go via Indonesia to the Philippines. That's the plan so far.
After that no idea yet.. would like to do Taiwan, Papua New Guinea etc. but the cash should be running thin by now and maybe it's time to jet off to New Zealand to find some work to do!
More or less done now! :-D Flying off to India on Wednesday from London. Will begin my South East Asia journeys in November.
Had a quick question about foreign exchange in those parts. Is it better to take USD or will most places accept GBP as well?