Hi, I'm heading out to South East Asia as a first time backpacker in early August and would really appreciate some advice on this seemingly trivial question... I hope you can help!
I have 3 months to visit 4 countries and would really like some input on which way is best to go... I'm unsure whether to start in Bangkok and basically work my way through this route, as posted by an awesome person on here - https://www.travelfish.org/trip_planner/thailand-indochina-tour1 (Bangkok, north through Thailand, into Laos, south through Laos, into Cambodia then into Vietnam, heading north to Hanoi)
OR, pretty much the opposite. Considering climate/seasons, practicality etc. I was just wondering if there was an obvious choice that was less obvious to a green-behind-the-ears chap with a simple wanderlust like myself...?
Also, is there any advice you can give to a 20 something, not only new to South East Asia, but backpacking altogether?
Aaaaand finally... If there is anyone that is going to be in Thailand/Vietnam in early August, or just in South East Asia in general over the 3 months I am there, and would like to meet up with a 22 (23 in August) year old fella from the UK then please, please let me know!! I would love to meet someone to share this experience with!!
Thanks for taking the time to read!
#1 joelw06 has been a member since 16/7/2013. Posts: 7
For some reason most people tend to do the classic circuit in the clockwise direction. The benefit then being slightly better odds of making travel buddies along the way, but also an argument in favour of doing it the other direction so you don't bump into the same people all along the way (trust me it does happen). Season-wise August-November is still technically wet season, but that seldom means all-day rain, more like hot days and late afternoon or evening showers. That said, it rained cats and dogs this morning in Chiang Mai where I live, but dried up now, very unpredictable. If making friends along the way is a priority you might just go plop on Khao San road for a few days, socialise a bit and then let collective opinion decide which way to head next. Four months is plenty of time for the region, no need to push yourself. Happy Travels.
Useful advice for the OP MADMAC!!!!!
#4 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 738
Climate wise it doesn't really matter as almost everywhere in SEA will be in its rainy season when you are there(Aug to Nov).
I went the same way you posted and it was pretty good. You end up having to purchase an extra flight though since you will most likely be purchasing a round trip flight(usually cheaper). It might make a little more sense in this regard to go either clockwise or counter clockwise(Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia for example). Flights are probably one of the biggest reasons to pick a route, probably noticeably cheaper to fly in and out of Bangkok.
Other then that could put the countries/attractions that interest you most later in your trip as the weather should theoretically be better in late October and November.
Vietnam is the most difficult country to navigate, and that's why I would encourage you to start there. Don't let me scare you, but Vietnam is a little different from the rest of SEA (the Vietnamese can be more aggressive when it comes to tourists). It will take a few hours to adjust, but then you'll learn to really love Vietnam and it's whackyness!
I think that if you were to start in Bangkok, you would then look on Vietnam as lacking in many areas (it is the poor cousin and less developed). I would fly into Hanoi and use the VOA visa (Approval Letter). Hanoi is my favorite large city in VN. Last fall I was in Bangkok, Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Hanoi - so glad to get back to Hanoi, because I find it to be the friendliest place in all of SE Asia.
Thanks so much for all the responses! I knew I could rely on the Travelfish community!
LeonardCohen1 - this trip is based around my interests if I'm honest.. South East Asia is a place where I've wanted to go since I was quite young, it just hasn't been accessible up until now. I've heard nothing but great things from friends and members of this site about the place and I don't think it's being a 'sheep on a circuit' just because a lot of people do the same route. I do see your point though and it did make me think about my options, however I am 100% sure that SEA is the destination I want to choose for my first backpacking trip. Thanks for making me think though!
#8 joelw06 has been a member since 16/7/2013. Posts: 7
"Why do you want to visit these 4 countries? Plan your trip around your interests. I don't know why people want to travel around on a sheep like circuit."
Actually I think we've figured this one out. They all want to "see" SEA, and they all want the security of doing so with familiar white faces along the way. The kids all want to party with other kids - and not local kids with whom they share no language.
"I don't think it's being a 'sheep on a circuit' just because a lot of people do the same route."
Joel, his point is almost all the "travellers" who come here with sufficient time do this "loop". They all go to the same places, do the same kinds of things... they all follow the herd. The idea of striking out on ones own and hitting places no one else goes to, to be the only, or one of the only, white faces in town and to go to places with no famous reputation but just getting to know ordinary people in ordinary places and experiencing genuine (as opposed to contrived) culture - well, it's just not the done thing. Leonard has a point there that I am emphathetic with. When my son came to Thailand he of course came to where I live and rapidly began to learn the language, learned to ride a motorcycle, and hung out with local kids his age. Within a week, he was out with his new friends all of the time, and soon he had a girlfriend and was completely immersed in the environment. It's easy to do - but almost nobody does it.
If we're being realistic here, nobody goes on holidays / travels to make friends with the locals. Treat them with respect and have a good attitude towards them for sure but making friends with them? No, it just doesn't happen. The reason travellers gravitate towards other travellers is because they come from similar backgrounds and it's often interesting to hang out and hear fellow traveller's stories regarding places to go or avoid etc.
The reason a lot of people hit up the big and famous sights is because they are magnificent. Luang Prabang, Sapa and Angkor Wat may be permanently clogged with tourists. But there is a reason for that, because they are all superb sights/locations worth seeing. It is human nature to want to see these kinds of places rather than going to some dusty, filthy backwater where you amy or may not strike up a conversation with a few locals (and that's assuming some kind of proficiency in the language).
What I don't understand is the incredibly rushed itineraries I see here and elsewhere. Like five cities in four different countries in two weeks.
#10 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 738
Yep China, that sums it up pretty well. My son is the only outlier here I know of and obviously coming to stay with me was a big part of the driving force (although it took on a life of its own after that).
I personally prefer well off the beaten path, and always have. Whether it was Africa or Asia or even Europe I wasn't interested in sightseeing at all. I lived in Western Europe 18 years and never went to Paris or Rome or any other attractions that were more than a couple of hours from my house (with a few exceptions - Waterloo, the Ardennes, and some dance locations). In Africa it was more of the same. I was interested in language and people and my world still pretty much functions that way. But yeah, you are right. People want to go see the famous sights, they want to hang out with the familiar in terms of other people, and they often want to eat familiar as well.
"if we're being realistic here, nobody goes on holidays / travels to make friends with the locals. Treat them with respect and have a good attitude towards them for sure but making friends with them? No, it just doesn't happen."
People visit countries all around the world and try to make local friends. It takes a bit more effort when the language is different but it's worth it when the culture is different.
You think English speaking tourists don't go to France or Germany and try to meet locals? Of course they do.
"But there is a reason for that, because they are all superb sights/locations worth seeing."
A nice big temple is enjoyable for a few hours or perhaps a day or 2. Then after that it's just another object. Friendships with locals can last many years and be far more rewarding.
"A nice big temple is enjoyable for a few hours or perhaps a day or 2. Then after that it's just another object. Friendships with locals can last many years and be far more rewarding."
I agree with this line of thought Leonard, but I must concede that China has the gist of it here and that our point of view is very much a minority one.
What an awesome discussion! I have to concede that I am not a seasoned 'traveller' and just haven't had the means to do it. Funnily enough I didn't actually mention any specific locations of where I wanted to visit in these countries but as China has said, these well-known places are amazing and for me, a must see. However, if anything, I do want to experience something a bit more 'off the beaten track', this has always been a preference of mine on any holiday I've been on and is definitely permeating my thoughts regarding this adventure. When I asked if there were any other people going or there for me to meet, I was hoping that maybe they could show me these places, because believe it or not, I'm not going to these countries to 'party with other kids' - did enough of that at uni. Not only this, I have a friend who teaches English in Thailand who I've been in contact with and he has promised to show me as much of the 'real Thailand' as possible. I've also looked at the possibility of 'couchsurfing' which would surely yield a deeper experience of culture.
I for one, as hard as it may be to believe, have a genuine interest in the alternative aspects of exploring another country and would be especially interested in meeting and spending time with locals, I just have no idea how to go about it! The only way I see it as possible whilst I'm sat here in the UK is by paying for guides when I'm there..?
If anyone (notably MADMAC or LeonardCohen) has any practical advice on doing so then I would be extremely grateful. Although most advice seems to be to 'get out there', but for a first time solo backpacker that may be easier said than done...
#14 joelw06 has been a member since 16/7/2013. Posts: 7
Tours are easy to organise once you are there and heaps cheaper than paying for them from overseas. Just fly there and do it. It's really not that scary or difficult. Just take a little bit of patience with you and you'll be fine.
MADMAC, that is such a generous offer. I'm booking my flights today. That sounds awesome. When I have booked my flights and ironed out the final details (which should be today!!) I will be sure to contact you regarding this, should the offer still be on the table that is!
Thanks again to everyone for all the replies people! Much love.
#17 joelw06 has been a member since 16/7/2013. Posts: 7
Hi all, just booked my flights to Hanoi for the 19th of this month and was planning to enter Thailand overland from Cambodia. I just wanted to ask how easy it was to extend the 15 day visa that is given to tourists who enter the country through land borders? I have read a few different posts and some people say that the rule is enforced in conjunction with the official's discretion and some saying that it is absolute. Would really appreciate if someone could clear this up for me?
Also, MADMAC, I am hoping to be arriving in Thailand in mid-November - if the offer still stands perhaps we could exchange email addresses to arrange - obviously you're off to the States in the mean time but it might be helpful later down the line!
#19 joelw06 has been a member since 16/7/2013. Posts: 7