I wanted to reach out to get some advice for a solo trip I am due to embark on in October 2014. I have never travelled alone before and have not really done a proper backpacking trip before. I did go travelling across the USA for 5 weeks with 3 friends when I was a student which involved a few hostels but I don't think it is any comparison for what I am about to face in October! I have also never been to SEA and so I am keen to soak up as much information and advice between now and October as I can.
I am 28 years old, female and Scottish - although I live and work in London (and have done for the last 5 years). I am planning to fly to Singapore in October and back to the UK mid-March (so will be out there for roughly 5 months). I am really keen to make friends as I go so I don't want to be too rigid in my plans in case I meet some people who are going one place and I am booked on a tour somewhere else.
So far I have planned to (but nothing booked yet):
- Fly to Singapore in October (I have chosen Singapore as a fairly "Westernised" country as I think it makes sense to ease myself in to a different way of life plus I've flown with Singapore Airlines before and loved them)
- Spend around 4 nights in Singapore sightseeing and getting over the jetlag (I am planning in staying in more of a flashpacker type place again just to give myself an easy start - Wink hostel is looking like the best option so far)
- Join a group tour to take me from Singapore to Bangkok in 2 weeks (I thought it made sense to start my travels with a bit of a support network and hopefully it will offer a good chance to make friends). It seems I have two options - G Adventures (£1099) or Intrepid Travel (£740). The price difference makes this a bit of a no-brainer unless anyone has had an amazing experience with G Adventures? The itinerary for the Intrepid Travel tour is: Singapore - Melaka - Kuala Lumpur -Cameron Highlands - Penang - Krabi - Khao Sok National Park - Bangkok
Beyond that I have no fixed plans - again I don't want to meet people who are going one way when I am fixed into going another way. I will probably come up with a loose ideal plan for me should I end up wanting to do my own thing from Bangkok but need to do a bit more research first to finalise this.
The must see countries I want to visit are:
Then if I have time I may visit either Indonesia or Phillipines (this probably won't be decided until I am out there as it will depend on who I meet, what time I have left after seeing the above and recommendations I collect on the way). I would rather skip them altogether than spend the 5 months rushing through SEA to fit them in. If I love a place then I want to have the freedom to stay there for a bit longer than constantly worry about fitting everything in.
I am really keen to get thoughts and advice from people on the must sees and any advice on the best order to visit these countries (I am conscious that I might hit rainy season in some places if I don't time it well).
Things I am interested in doing/seeing:
- Food/cooking - I am a total foodie so am keen to visit food markets try out new cuisines and take a few classes whilst out there
- Beaches - I want to spend a bit of time relaxing and having fun whilst enjoying the beautiful beach scenery
- History/Culture - I am not interested in history/temples to the extent I want to spend all my time in temples and see every last historical/cultural artefact but I do want to experience the cultural side of SEA and see the main sights (e.g. Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Wat Pho in Bangkok)
- Socialising - one of the big reasons I am going on my own is to boost my confidence a bit and be more comfortable talking to strangers. Therefore, I want to spend time meeting people and doing a bit of bar and club hopping (sensibly of course). Would be keen to do the Full Moon Party (if it is going again by the time I go)
- Scuba Diving/Snorkelling - I have never done it before so would love to learn (I understand Ko Tao is a good place for this?)
- Volunteering - I would love to spend a few weeks of my trip doing some good. That said I have read lots of reports of volunteer schemes that don't actually help the local communities. I would rather not do it at all than so something harmful
- Local Living - I know it sounds like a cliche but I am keen just to spend time wandering around some of the places I visit getting a feel for the city/village and to chat to a few locals if I can. I definitely plan on spending some time "soaking up" the places I love as opposed to jumping from one tourist attraction to another
I haven't fully researched all of the countries I want to visit yet (particularly Laos and Vietnam) but from what I have read and been recommended by friends, the places I think I should see are:
- Singapore: Although I am only there for a few nights at the start I will likely fly back from here too so will do some of this in March. So far the activities I am thinking of are food tour (run by Betel Box hostel), Singapore Sling in Raffles, Sentosa Island, Singapore Zoo & Night Safari, wandering around the shops, hawker stalls and Little India
- Malaysia/Thailand: The places on the tour above (I may go back again if I love a place we visit)
- Thailand: Bangkok, Chang Mai, Phuket, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao, Ko Phi Phi
- Cambodia: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Kampot/Kep
- Vietnam: Tour from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (or vice versa) - I need to research more to know all the stops. Only one I have researched so far is Halong Bay
- Laos: I really haven't researched at all but clearly have the obvious Luang Prabang, Vientiane & Vang Vieng on the list. I will definitely add to this as I read more about Laos - recommendations welcome!
My total budget is around £9k but that includes everything (flights, travel insurance, tour, clothes and rucksack to buy before I go, storage fees for my stuff). I plan on living on a shoestring even though I have a fairly healthy budget (I think) but may want to have the flexibility to book into a hotel every now and then if I am feeling a bit homesick.
Sorry for the really long post but I have read a few posts before where people immediately come back and ask what type of stuff the person wants to see so thought I would try and get all the detail in early.
What do you guys think? Am I starting out the right way with Singapore and a tour? Am I visiting the right places given my interests? Any glaring omissions? Any recommendations for Laos and Vietnam in particular? Am I missing a trick by not including the Philippines and Indonesia on my must see list? Any suggested times to avoid any of the places on my list due to weather?
Any thoughts and suggestions are welcome. Thanks in advance!
regarding Malaysia you might also consider Borneo island, we spend there 3 fantastic weeks last year (jungle experience, diving, trekking)
You're not considering Indonesia, which I find a lovely country, is there a specific reason? It offers some of the best beaches and diving of all SEA
#2 Esusino has been a member since 25/6/2013. Posts: 19
I'll have a read up on Borneo.
The main reason I had skipped Indonesia is that I believe that the time I am out there (Oct-Feb) is the rainy season. Have you been there at this time of year? Would be good to know how you found it.
As you're into food and cooking, I'd recommend spending more time in Penang. It's a fantastic foodie destination, and you'll probably only get a day or two there on a 2 week tour. Malaysia and Singapore are generally good foodie destinations in general, and I also found the food in most of Vietnam to be terrific - Hanoi, Hoi An/Danang/Hue are all well worth some time exploring (and stuffing your face).
There's nothing wrong with starting with a tour if that's going to make you feel more comfortable. I would say that backpacking in Asia is pretty easy, especially in countries with good tourism infrastructure like Thailand, and it's easy to meet people. Your first paragraph mentions not having done anything like this before, but trust me - you'll be absolutely fine.
With regards to volunteerism, IMHO, it's better to research and find a good cause, then make a monetary donation. Unskilled volunteers (manual labour, etc) takes jobs away from locals, and highly skilled volunteers (ie, with specific, hard to find skills that the organisation might have trouble finding or paying for from the local population) really only work when they can make a long-term commitment. Giving money to those who can use it effectively in the community tends to be a much more efficient way of helping than donating a week or two of your time.
G Adventures (Â£1099) or Intrepid Travel (Â£740). The price difference makes this a bit of a no-brainer unless anyone has had an amazing experience with G Adventures? The itinerary for the Intrepid Travel tour is: Singapore - Melaka - Kuala Lumpur -Cameron Highlands - Penang - Krabi - Khao Sok National Park - Bangkok
I'd recommend scrapping this idea. That route is hardly "intrepid" and you could do it very easily all by yourself on very comfortable public buses (far more luxurious than anything you've ever seen in Scotland) for a fraction of the price. Singapore is already an expensive place to stay, don't throw away another large chunk of your budget right at the beginning of your trip unnecessarily. Later on you may find you haven't got enough money left to do what you REALLY want to do and you'll be kicking yourself.
As Antonia mentioned, another drawback of doing organized tours is that you're herded about from place to place like a bunch of sheep and you can't modify the itinerary and stay longer in places you like. As for meeting friends... people who do organized 2 week tours in dead easy countriesaren't likely to be backpacking on a budget for several months afterwards. Chances are they'll be heading back home when the tour's over and you might find yourself stuck with people you loathe for 2 weeks as well. Anyway, my advice is to dump the so called "intrepid" tour and use public transport to go where you want when you want.
You may well meet people who are heading that way in your hostel in Singapore ...but you have to choose the right hostel. The first one in this list sounds a better bet for meeting people than the one you chose https://www.travelfish.org/feature/285.
October is a good month to go to Indonesia. Weather will probably be drier than in Thailand. You could do diving and snorkeling (and partying) on on one of the Gili islands which are dead simple to get to from Bali.
Agree with SBT about the scratching the tour. Waaay too expensive & I think you will regret it. I traveled solo through SEA and it's about as hard as falling off a log. :) I would suggest heading to Malaysia from Singapore as a way to ease yourself into solo traveling. Malaysia has good infrastructure, reasonable priced accommodation, most people speak some english and the food is fantastic. The buses are cheap & comfortable, as well. Agree that Penang is a foodie paradise as well an interesting place to wander around. There are many cooking classes available which are also a great way to meet fellow travelers.
I loved Malaysian Borneo. I found it easy to travel to & from and within. I especially enjoyed Kuching & Bako national park.
Malaysia is also Air Asia's hub so you should be able to find cheap flights to destinations further afield when you want to move on.
Good luck & have fun
Tours are good for a certain type of tourist - the kind that is going to need intellectual assistance because they are in a very foreign environment and are not emotionally put down for that. Sometimes tours offering some narrow range experience can also be useful. But otherwise, it's just much cheaper and more fun (more flexibility, more sense of adventure) moving about on your own.