I decided about a month a go to finally fulfill my dream of backpacking around Southeast Asia (and on to Australia).
I'm doing a lot of research and reading on Southeast Asia but would really like some advise from people who have been there and done it! (The Australia part of the trip is relatively easy to plan as I know the country pretty well already)
I'm a 31 yo male (taking a career break) and will be travelling on my own. I'll have around £10k to pay for my flights, equipment, insurance and spend whilst i'm away. After a fair amount of research I'm pretty confident this should be enough?
I'm looking to leave in December or very early Jan...
I'm thinking about flying into Bangkok and then flying on to Australia from KL or Singapore, leaving me 6 months-ish to do the following:
From Bangkok head into northern Thailand (2-3 weeks), then Laos (4 weeks), Vietnam (North to South, 4 weeks), Cambodia (4 weeks), Bangkok, head south through Thailand (2-3 weeks), KL and onto Bali/Komodo/Lombok etc (4 weeks)
(After this I may have to head back to KL or Singapore to fly onto Australia)
How does that itinerary sound? Doable? Is that the right way round to do it?
A big question i'm trying to figure out is how much travel, accommodation & activities should be booked in advance?
As a solo traveler will I easily meet people? (I'm a sociable bloke). Some of these questions may seem a little obvious but I'd just like to get the opinions of people in the know.
Once I can figure this bit out I can book my flights and start thinking about the finer details
Yes, you will have enough money.
Yes, your route is doable. A couple of things to note: you get a 30 day visa exemption when arriving in Thailand by air, but when arriving by land it's only half that, so you'll need a Thai visa in order to spend 3 weeks in Thailand the second time you arrive.
Pre-book as little as possible. You'll need to prebook your flights in and out of the region, and will need a rough itinerary so you can arrange your Vietnam visa, but in general keep things as flexible as possible, so you're free to adjust your plans as you go along.
Yes, you'll find it very easy to meet people.
That;s short answers to all your questions - you;ll find all of them have been discussed extensively already on this site, so if you're looking for more information I'd suggest you do a search through the forums.
Good luck and have fun.
Your proposed itinerary looks pretty perfect to me! You're arriving at peak season so I think it's an excellent idea to head to Northern Thailand first and leave the southern beaches until it's quietened down after Songkran. Weather should still be OK, low season accommodation prices and no crowds. Some national marine parks close down after Songkran and there may be fewer ferry services but it shouldn't be a huge problem. Chiang Mai might be quite busy around Christmas/New Year but there's lots of accommodation there so I doubt if you'll have to sleep on the street. Probably a good idea book your first night or two in Bangkok though. It's always easier to know where you're going when you arrive in a big city in a new country and the best places will probably be fully booked as it's peak season.
You'll be avoiding the main Xmas/New Year hordes in Laos though it could still be quite busy late January and a little chilly up in the mountains. On the other hand it should be dry and I don't think they start burning rice paddies till later, so I'd say good choice there too. I haven't been to Laos for years and was there in October so I'm not sure whether it'll be necessary to book accommodation in advance late January/early February.... I'm guessing not really but check when Chinese New Year falls next year because it often gets busy then.
You'll be in Cambodia during Khmer New Year if my calculations are right. That may or may not be deliberate planning. If you don't want to be there when it's really hot and crazy people are throwing water about then you could always inverse the order of Vietnam and Cambodia. In Thailand it's best to book transport and accommodation in advance during Songkran and prices tend to be quite high because of local demand. I'm guessing it's the same in Cambodia during Khmer New Year but I haven't been there at that time of year so it's just a guess!
May/June is an excellent time to go to Indonesia. Rainy season is over, weather should be good, seas calm, and the summer hordes haven't arrived yet. Shouldn't be any problem getting reasonably priced accommodation on walk in there then.
SBE gives good advice with respect to weather and holiday events (wish I could keep all that straight in my own head!)
Your itinerary and timeframes are very similar to what I did a few years ago - except I had an extra month in Indo and didn't make it to Laos that trip. I think your timings are pretty good - although you may find weeks in Cambodia a bit too long. Not that it really matters either way if you're are booking things as you go - don't pre-book too many flights if you can avoid it. It's a good itinerary outline but you will no doubt tweak it as you go.
Likewise, I wouldn't pre-book any accommodation other than the first few nights when you arrive in Bkk. As you go along you may want to pre-book a night or two if you are arriving in one of the bigger cities (KL, etc) - especially if arriving late at night. For the most part, just wing it as you go. I always read up on my next destination to find out where the accommodation is centered, and have a short list of preferred places. This is useful when you get off a bus and are hit with a gazillion taxi or tuktuk drivers who are clambering over each other to take you to their uncle's guesthouse for a special deal. Politely decline and tell them the name of the place that you want to go - have it written down ahead of time. If you don;t like it when you show up, that's fine. You can walk around to other nearby places until you find what you want.
Also - if you are planning on coming back to Thailand overland from Cambodia, you will only get a 2 week visa; you need to fly in to get the 4 week one, Just something to keep in mind if you plan on spending more than 2 weeks in the southern area.
"although you may find weeks in Cambodia a bit too long."
I would never worry about too long. As you alluded to, you can always move on when you get bored with a place. I could easily imagine spending 6 months in Cambodia if I had the time.
In some places it's easy to meet people while in others difficult but there's so much to do I wouldn't worry about it. For Xmas and NYE you should book a room perhaps a week or 2 in advance if you want something good. For other times 2 days before is fine
I made a typo... I meant 4 weeks in Cambodia may be too long..... and think that you might want to plan on 2-3. This is what most people generally do. But as MM says, you may want to stay longer. Keeping your itinerary as flexible as possible will allow that.