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Advice on 3 month Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam & Cambodia trip for solo female

Posted by SLL on 24/7/2015 at 20:48

Hi Everyone,
Apologies if you have answered these questions a million times before, but I have hit panic stage and need to book flights next week!
As some background info, I am a (currently terrified) first time female traveller, having never even walked into a pub on my own before, and am planning a 13-14 week trip to try to catch up on some of the life I have missed out on over the past 20 years (typical mid life crisis lol!). I had never planned on fulfilling this dream travelling solo, but if I don't do this now I probably won't get the chance again....so I am trying to cram in as much as I possibly can without exhausting myself too much and am hoping to gain some confidence out of this trip! I am a very young and energetic 40 yr old, who can hold their own easily with all younger generations, but tend to wear out older generations with my energiser bunny mentality! I love nature, wildlife, stunning scenery, snorkelling, beach bum life style, socialising and partying. Things I would like to incorporate into this trip are seeing temples and ruins, as much wildlife as possible and maybe some jungle exploration, staying in a beach bungalow and visiting remote islands, swimming in waterfalls, meeting lots of new people, a bit of partying (including the bucket list full moon party!) experiencing the culture (maybe a home stay in a village somewhere?) and generally experiencing as much of the diversity of Asia as I possibly can. I am really nervous about spreading my wings on my own for the first time, so would like to stick to places where there will be plenty of chances to meet fellow travellers and am planning on staying on hostels mainly. I need to keep things as cheap as possible, although I have no set budget and do not want to miss out on things for the sake of penny watching. I would like some advice on my suggested itinery below, to see if there are any places I should forget and avoid, or unmissable places that I should consider including please! Also, opinions on whether what I am suggesting is feasible...although it will be rushed I know!
Rough itinery is:
15th Sept - Uk to Bangkok. Stay 4 days to find my feet and get over my nerves about being 'alone'!
20th Sept - fly to Bali.
Spend next 1 - 1 & 1/2wks visiting Komodo Island and Gili Islands (advice on which Gili would be best please and whether it is best to do an organised trip to Komodo or independent travel?)
Back to Bali for few days, to include Ubud.
Travel up overland to Jakarta (any recommendations on unmissable stops or places to visit?)
Approx 18th Oct - Fly from Jakarta to either Singapore or Kuala Lumpur (which would be better in my situation?)
Either travel overland if there is amazing scenery and national parks, or fly if not, to Perhentian Islands. Stay 3 days?
Travel west (overland or fly?) to Ko Lanta and Similan Islands (is it worth visiting Similan if I have done Gili and Perhentian, or should I drop one of them?)
Travel east again to Ko Phangan for the obligatory full moon party on 25th Nov ;-)
27th Nov - head north up towards Bangkok. Any suggested essential viewing stops on way?
Fly from Bangkok to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat area. Stay 2-3 days.
Travel to Phnom Penh. Overland if scenery is worth it, or fly?
Travel to Ho Chi Minh and maybe Mekong Delta trip. Again, would overland or flight be more fulfilling?
Fly from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi / Bai Chai (or leave this out if it is repetitive of other stops I am covering?) If leave out, travel straight to Luang Prabang. If stopping at Hanoi, is overland travel or flight best to Luang Prabang...i.e. again, are there any unmissable stops en route?
Overland to Chiang Rai and then Chiang Mai, travel along Mekong River as part of it (if so, which part...and is it worth doing both the Southern Mekong Delta and the Northern Mekong River sections?)
Train back to Bangkok.
Fly home to UK by 20th Dec latest!
I am well aware that once I get there and get over my panic, I may well ditch all my plans and just go with the flow....but in order to get the confidence to do this, I will feel much happier having an itinery and basic plan I can follow if I want to. I also need to pre-book the main flights (not internal ones) now, so need to have a rough idea of how long I will need to space each one out.
Any advice will be greatly appreciated please :-)

#1 SLL has been a member since 23/7/2015. Posts: 5

Posted by antoniamitchell on 25/7/2015 at 03:46

Hi there,

As one early-40s Brit to another, the first thing I want to say it "Yeah you!!!! Well done on deciding to do this!"

It will seriously be one of the best things you ever do, and solo travel is amazing - you'll soon discover you're far braver and more resilient and independent than you ever realised you were.


Secondly, I seriously doubt you'll be able to pack in as much as you've got planned - the distances between places are reaaaalllllyyyy long, and long-distance bus and train travel is very tiring. Internal flights can be great time savers but also aren't always cheap, plus you'll miss seeing life on the ground as you zoom over at 30,000 feet. You could also easily spend the entire three months in just one country and only see the half of it - do you really want to go all the way to Vietnam and only have time to see HCMC and maybe the Mekong Delta?

Some of my favourite memories of trips are the quieter days I spent exploring the back country, the small towns where the locals invited me to sit with them for a cup of tea, the relaxed beach where I was the only westerner there. If you pack your itinerary to hit as many possible must-sees (which normally means a big, well know city, or a popular tourist island), you'll miss out on all the other experiences to be had in the region.

I know you've admitted you'll probably cut back a bit and go with the flow, but I also find that, once they've made an itinerary, sometimes people feel a lot of internal mental pressure to maintain it. There's that little voice in your head saying "Shouldn't I be in KL by now? Am I missing out?" etc. Which is why I would recommend simplifying your initial itinerary, so you then don't feel quite as much "I'm going off the rails" when you drop stuff. And when that little voice does speak up? Tell her to shut up!

And don't get hung up on the idea of "will I meet people?" or tied to the idea of hostels. For one, there aren't that many hostels in most areas of Asia (they just aren't part of the mentality there the way they are in Europe, so you're far more likely to end up staying in small guesthouses). For two, it's really easy to meet other travellers anywhere and everywhere: across the aisle on a bus, in your guesthouse breakfast room or lobby, at the next table at the hawker centre or cafe or bar. If you're on your own, people will talk to you, and you can talk to them (I'm the least social person alive, and I still regularly had dinner with strangers in Asia).

In terms of practicalities of the plan and booking main flights, I'd drop the initial 4 days in Bangkok - Bali is a pretty easy place to start a vacation in (it's well visited and has lots of tourist infrastructure) so it's not like you'll be jumping in at the deep end if you start there. Plus you're going to pass through Bangkok later anyway, so why do it twice? Plus, Bangkok isn't the prettiest city, so I'd pick something else as your first view of Asia (first impressions do tend to stay with you).

For booking your flight on from Indo, you can get reasonably priced flights to SIN or KL on the local budget carriers, so you really don't need to book those flights before you leave (you could basically book a flight a week or two in advance, once you're in Indo and know more about how much time you'll want to spend there or where you're likely to be at the time of leaving). I'd suggest flying to SIN and then working your way overland up the peninsula, through Malaysia and Thailand, however be aware that this could easily take the rest of your three month trip (or far more) as you float happily from town to town and island to island, exploring jungles, waterfalls, cities and beaches as you go.

If you're determined that you really want to do Cambodia and Laos on this trip, I'd skip Malaysia and you'll have to move a little faster through Thailand in order to free up the time. Basically, 3 months seems like a long time when you're first planning, but it's less time than you think. You can't do everything, I'm afraid.

Have a wonderful time!

#2 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 569

Posted by TerroirTravel on 25/7/2015 at 12:08

Hi,

First- yes! Good for you! I took my 40s year old female solo trip starting in November 2013, spent a month in Thailand, a month in Cambodia, and 3 in Vietnam before heading to Eastern Europe. This was not my first solo trip but a long shot, but my first time in SE Asia.

What Antonia says about meeting people is true- I made great friends with people I met on the bus, or at a cooking class, at a farmstay, or just having a bite or a drink. I made a great connection with a lost Brit trying to find the war museum in HCMC- which was where I was headed anyway. Yes, you'll probably get lonely at times, and eating out alone much of the time can get hard, but you'll learn so much about yourself and the area. You'll also see many western women travelling alone- far more than men, I found. Guesthouses often have a bookshelf, so I was picking up and dropping off books all over.

Antonia covered all the major bases, I wanted to add a couple of things, based on my experience and what I would do differently.

First- this is a 14 week trip. As much as you think you can keep up a vigorous pace for the whole time, I highly recommend allowing yourself some downtime. I recall fondly a day that I slept in in Siem Reap and watched movies. Sounds silly, but it was really needed.

Second- as long as you have whatever advance visas arranged as necessary, don't overplan. I had an iPad and an account at booking.com. When I tired of the place I was, I explored how to get to the next place, then booked 1 night at the new place, so I always had a place to land. If it was good, I'd stay. If I didn't like it, I'd move on. Wifi is everywhere, so planning is easy if you have a device. Also, since you'll meet people, your travels may intersect for a bit. This may get you to places you might not have considered- this happened to me a lot, and I did things that weren't on my radar at all, and my experience was richer for it.

I'll probably have more thoughts, but I have to run. I'll close on one thing. It's easier than you think. Guesthouses will help you with the bus or train, taxi. The one thing that my other female travelers agreed on was that it was much easier than we thought it would be. People are friendly and helpful, and English is widely spoken.

#3 TerroirTravel has been a member since 1/2/2014. Posts: 76

Posted by savorygal on 26/7/2015 at 04:40

Hi SLL,
Congratulations on taking the solo travel leap. I took my first solo travel trip when I was 49 & spent 18 months traversing SEA & India, so I know how nerve wracking planning can be.
Firstly, know that you may be lonely some nights/days AND THATS OK. It's all part of the journey.
I currently live on Gili Trawangan so hopefully I can be helpful in regards to your Indonesia travel plans. If you are not planning on going to Bali first I would recommend flying into Lombok (LOP) from KL. Air asia has twice daily flights which usually very inexpensive. Try to get the morning flight so you land around noon which makes getting to the gilis easier. ( Local harbor closes as 1630 ish) I think you would be happy with either Gili T or Air. Both have a nice backpacker/flashpacker vibe although you may meet more solo travelers on Gili T. You would be wise to spend AT LEAST 4 days on a Gili otherwise you miss the entire point of being on a tropical island, in my opinion.
I would skip Flores/komodo. You simply don't have enough time to enjoy it properly. Flights are expensive and often delayed & it will take you almost an entire day each way to go a very short distance, which seems silly but thats the way it is.
From the gili's you can get a fast boat to bali and spend some time going around Bali, if you choose. I would depart Indonesia from Bali & skip Jakarta all together. Total waste of time. Java is great as well, but i would choose either bali OR Java with your itinerary.
I would also recommend a few other things:
1. take it slow. Seriously. you will regret it if you try to see/do too much. plan on losing an entire day or more every time you change locations.
2. don't plan too far ahead. its a total bummer to book all sots of transport & then find you really like a place &/or people then have to leave because you have a ticket to somewhere else.
3. Don't be afraid to go up to people & start a conversation. Chances are they would like company as well.
4. Day tours or classes are excellent ways to meet people with common interests.
5. Everything Terroir travel says. You will definitely need downtime, while it is not so difficult travel in Asia can be exhausting and a tube of pringles & a movie may just set the world right again.
6. get an external hardrive & load it with your favorite movies/TV shows. On the equator it gets dark at 630 pm & unless you are out at bars/restaurants for hours on end you will want some entertainment.

Feel free to PM me with any specific Gili questions
Have fun!
Suzanne

#4 savorygal has been a member since 16/7/2010. Posts: 176

Posted by antoniamitchell on 26/7/2015 at 05:21

That's a good tip about taking tv shows and movies (assuming you're travelling with some kind of device that you can play them with). I always take tonnes of books (normally on a kindle to save space) when I travel, but sometimes you feel like you'd kill just to curl up in bed with a movie or an episode of some silly comedy programme, and spend an evening doing something that feels comfortably "normal" after weeks of sensory overload. You'll sometimes find wifi fast enough to stream programmes from home, but that isn't that common (in my experience).

Speaking of "normal", and as amazing as the food can be in that part of the world, there's no shame if sometimes you just really want a pizza. I adore much of the food of the region, and mostly cook it at home here in the UK, but I still get days when travelling where I think "If I have to eat one more bowl of rice I'll scream!" So don't beat yourself up or let some other traveller goad you for not eating "local" food if you go into a Pizza Hut one evening - chances are the other dinners are mostly locals, anyway! Wanting a cheese sandwich is not a personal failing.

#5 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 569

Posted by mikal83 on 26/7/2015 at 06:00

Good for you. We did our first flashpacking trip to SEA three years ago, Thailand and Malaysia then 4 months campervaning SE OZ , and we are our early 50,s. Bookbub is a good website to upload free eBooks, we also bought a recon tablet for 60quid for d internets n stuff, (on the flea). We too leave the UK in early Oct for Hanoi via BKK and after 2 1/2 months will arrive back in BKK via the reverse big Travelfish loop. Kayak is our fave for flights we also liked Asia rooms for reviews/booking accom..........and of course Tfish.


Mike n Ali

#6 mikal83 has been a member since 19/1/2015. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 140

Posted by SLL on 26/7/2015 at 13:52

Can I just say a massive thank you to all of you that have so kindly posted replies on here for me - the advice, reassurance and knowledge that you have given me is invaluable and has helped ease my panic stage down from several full-on melt downs daily for the past few days, to only a couple of nearly tearful weak moments over the past 24 hours lol!
I now aim to book my flight from UK to Bali (thank you for the confidence on that one AntoniaMitchell!) and my return flight home from Bangkok to UK......and just wing it in-between, booking internal flights as and when it feels right.
Savorygal - I am definitely planning on visiting Gili Trawanga now and may well book in for a few days of relaxed luxury with you and some recommended down time! :-)
Does anyone have any suggestions on unmissable places to visit anywhere in Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia if I make it that far? Any places you have been to that have left lasting memories and that you would not want to have missed? I am talking myself around reducing my itinery and going wherever this 3 months takes me, but some insider info on which places I should try to see, or places that aren't so crucial, would be of great help. This is likely to be my only chance to do anything like this, so I would hate to come home and discover I have missed any of the jewels in the crown!
Thanks,
Sadie

#7 SLL has been a member since 23/7/2015. Posts: 5

Posted by antoniamitchell on 26/7/2015 at 14:28

Well, one man's jewel is another man's yawn.

In Thailand, I loved Prachup Khiri Khan for some quiet chilling on a balcony overlooking the sea, and splashing around on a pine-tree lined beach, with almost no other Westerners around. I never had time to visit any of the Thai islands (just didn't appeal as much so I never got around to them), and you couldn't pay me to attend the full moon party. Others will think that was a lunatic decision, and find locals-only beaches boring (No English speakers to hang out with, no large cocktails, no beach parties?). Different strokes for different folks. In other words, you're the best judge of what's right for you. Just because someone tells you "Oh, you must go to X. It's wonderful!" doesn't actually mean that YOU will necessarily find it wonderful.

That said, if you don't get as far as Cambodia, or even if you do but are into history and temples, I'd recommend one of the old capital cities in Thailand (Ayutheya, which you could in a pinch visit on a day trip from Bangkok, and Sukhothai / Si Satchanalai).

TTFN

#8 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 569

Posted by TerroirTravel on 26/7/2015 at 14:59

One of my favorite places turned out to be Kampot in Cambodia. Sleepy river town, easy to get a bike and explore the town and the area. Others might find it pretty boring. I would have stayed longer, but I had made reservations on Phu Quoc for Tet, and had to move on. I wish I had gone up to bokor mountain, etc. I only picked Kampot because it was on the way.

Tip- Ecran movie house has a great noodle and dumpling shop. $2.50 usd for a nice bowl of soup., or a plate of dumplings.

I also enjoyed the Meas Family Farmstay in Angtasom. Would have loved it except for the 3 day cambodian wedding that went on, loudly, for more than 36 straight hours- all through the night as well. They get these really big speakers and blast them. Made me a little nuts, because it was otherwise a lovely place- that sort of biking through the rice paddies experience that you think of in SE Asia.

#9 TerroirTravel has been a member since 1/2/2014. Posts: 76

Posted by SLL on 26/7/2015 at 18:18

All of that sounds amazing - i have very diverse tastes so love serene nature, wildlife and history, as much as i love socialising and night life. I will be fitting in temples, ruins, waterfalls and remote villages and beaches where possible (Ayuthera is one of my marked stops if possible) but also experiencing the vibrant nightlife on offer! 😊 Thanks again for taking the time for all the helpful advice you are forwarding to me!

#10 SLL has been a member since 23/7/2015. Posts: 5

Posted by JuliaLuther on 27/7/2015 at 04:13

Solo travelling brings great experience! I did it in Laos when I was 25 n' can't forget it!. From Siem Reap to Phnompenh, I flied and felt energetic 'coz it's quite long distance if you travel by bus. If taking bus, you can see lotus pond and the area where they sell some food from insects.


From Phnompenh I did speed boat to Chau Doc (Vietnam), then travelled around Mekong delta, very interesting, you can try it, and finally go to Ho Chi Minh city by bus. Or you can travel from Phnompenh to Shihanoukville, Kep, Kampot (very nice as well) and to Ha Tien (Vietnam), then go to Phu Quoc island or travel around Mekong Delta and go to Ho Chi Minh in the end. Fly from HCM to Hanoi , discover this amazing city and surrounding, travel to Sapa, Halong, Ninh Binh....I flied from Hanoi to Luang Prabang, have never experienced overland road. As far as I know, it's quite bumpy and long long distance

#11 JuliaLuther has been a member since 21/10/2014. Posts: 29

Posted by SLL on 5/8/2015 at 17:22

Hi everyone,
I have another question if it's ok to tap your knowledgeable brains please?
Vaccinations......I have just had the advised Typhoid and Hep B shots and have cover already for Hep A, tetanus and Diptheria. What are all of your thoughts on cholera, rabies and Japanese encephalitis? I plan to do a bit of rural travelling in Indonesia and Thailand and the advice from my GP practice nurse was not very helpful lol! "....read up on it and let me know what you want....!!"
I plan to visit monkey sanctuaries and other wildlife/animal areas, plus islands, etc, but have no idea how accessible rabies treatment is from Bali for example, or in southern Thailand, and get the impression that pre-travel shots give you more time to access the correct treatment if you are unfortunate enough to need it? They cost £150 here, but I do not know if the risk is worth the expense? Is cholera worth getting too, or is that only needed if you are in refugee style places as my GP nurse seems to think? Jap Enc shots are £200 here, but have read somewhere that you can get them in Thailand for about £20 in the major hospital clinics, so considering doing that at the start of the trip.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated (again) please! :-)
Thanks,
Sadie

#12 SLL has been a member since 23/7/2015. Posts: 5

Posted by antoniamitchell on 5/8/2015 at 17:55

Caveats first - I'm not a tropical disease expert so everything I say should be understood as only one woman's opinion and what I'd do. You obvs have to make your own choices on what's right for you. That said:

The important ones are the ones your GP or practice nurse will have already given you - Hep, Typhoid, a tetanus booster.

Cholera you're highly unlikely to contact unless you stray into a refuge camp or warzone (outbreaks are pretty darn rare outside of those situations), so it's not one you normally need unless your trip is part of an aid convoy. Japanese encephalitis isn't that common and the shots carry their own risk, so if you're considering it, you should really have a proper risk-assessment based discussion with a qualified travel health or tropical disease expert (but again, in my opinion it's not really necessary).

Onto rabies - you are correct that having the shots in advance simply means you have more time to get to a clinic or hospital and get treatment if you are exposed. Unless you're visiting the region specifically to work with animals, or plan on spending large amounts of time a three day hike into impassable jungle (meaning, you couldn't get to medical help in a timely fashion), I wouldn't normally bother. The shots are widely available in a lot of the region (in Thailand, for example. Dunno about Bali as I've never been, but it's hardly the back of beyond so I'm assuming they're available there as well), and the most important thing you can do to protect yourself is keep your hands to yourself when around animals - don't try and pet wild dogs or monkeys, for example, to reduce the chances of being scratched or bitten. If you are unlucky enough to be scratched or bitten, go to a local hospital or clinic and get the shots then.

Remember, millions of tourists visit this region every year, and most don't get sick (and those who do get sick, most only get a dodgy tummy or food poisoning). Realistically, your main concerns, health wise, are to be careful where you eat (don't eat food that's been sitting out at room temperature buffets all day, for example) and protect yourself from mosquitoes (because of risk of Dengue).

#13 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 569


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