Photo: Street food Phetchaburi Soi 10, Bangkok.

Southeast Asia forum

SEA backpacking questions

Posted by clearest on 12/7/2017 at 14:23

Me and a friend may be taking a gap year together after finishing at college and both of us would love to backpack SEA. Firstly, how safe is it, primarily Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia? I've heard terrible stories but also have researched and seen that it's really safe for backpackers. We'd be going in over a year, so have a lot of time to plan and do plenty of research. I haven't figured out exactly getting to/from boarders etc but have seen online that transport is really good in SEA as there's trains/buses etc. How does this sound for a first time draft, haha, unsure of the timings atm but, say we went for 3 months:

Flight to Bangkok > stay in the Bangkok area for 11 days (day trips, what else is there to do nearby) > train to Chiang Mai > stay in Chiang Mai for 10 days (day trips as well, haven't researched exact attractions yet) > unsure but train or bus to Luang Prabuang, Laos > stay in Lunage Prabuang for a 7 days > train/bus to Vientiane > stay in Vientiane area for 7 days > train/bus to Hai Phong > stay in area of Hai Phong, Vietnam for 7 days > bus/stay over down to southern Vietnam, unsure of destinations, for 21 days > train/bus to Phnom Penh, Cambodia > stay/travel in Cambodia for 14 days > train/bus back to Thailand to stay at Koh Chang near the Cambodia/Thailand boarder for 7 days = 3 months

Basically; am I on the right lines? I'm aware there's so much more to take into consideration, but so far, how is this as a starting point? Apologies if I've spelt anything incorrectly. We'd most likely go, as we're first timers, in the peak/tourist season, dec/jan/feb/march. Thank you

#1 clearest has been a member since 12/7/2017. Posts: 1

Posted by exacto on 12/7/2017 at 22:22

Hi clearest,

I think you are basically on the right track. You've got a basic route planned, and now it is time to research the options and fill in the details.

As far as safety goes, yes, there are horror stories, but in my experience Southeast Asia is generally safe. Using good sense, not getting drunk in public, not picking fights with locals, and not flashing cash or expensive toys will go a long way to help keep you safe. I also suggest not taking overnight buses, and not riding motor scooters if you don't already ride at home as other ways to help keep you a bit safer.

With a bit of research, the details will fill in nicely around your general plan. In the Bangkok area, for example, overnight trips could include Kanchanaburi, Ayutthaya, and Koh Samet. Consider the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai . Chiang Dao is a fun overnight getaway to break up your time in Chiang Mai. Consider flying from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. No trains in Laos.

The amount of time you've scheduled to spend in each place might shift, depending on what you learn during your research. For example, as much as I love Vientiane, Laos, I think seven days would be too long there. You may also be better off setting a general itinerary rather than a rigid one, in case you don't like a place as much as you think and wish to move on, or to allow you to spend extra time somewhere you really like. That is one advantage of using buses rather than trains or flights.

Do a bit of research ahead of time on visa requirements for the passports you carry, to determine if you can pick them up on arrival at the border or need to get them in advance.

I hope that helps at least get you started. Cheers.

#2 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,753
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Posted by mikal83 on 13/7/2017 at 04:44

I'd do the classic route as per Travelfishes big S. We did the reverse starting in Hanoi finishing in BKK due to the time of year. Its cold in north Vietnam in feb/march so beware.

#3 mikal83 has been a member since 19/1/2015. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 139
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Posted by DLuek on 13/7/2017 at 07:28 TF writer

Good advice above. One thing I'd add is that you could explore more into Northern Thailand and then head into Laos through the Chiang Saen / Huay Xai crossing and then take a boat down to Luang Prabang . Otherwise take exacto's advice and fly, as Chiang Mai > Luang Prabang by bus would be long and hard. Chiang Mai itself has a lot to offer but it is a big, busy and touristy city, so you might enjoy your time up North more if you get out into the rural areas more -- think Chiang Rai, Mae Salong, Nan, Mae Hong Son, Pai, etc.

Also good advice to take a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and you could do this the slow way with stops in Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Phitsanulok / Sukhothai, Lampang and/or Lamphun. Personally, for a first-time trip, I'd shave 4 or 5 of those 11 days off Bangkok and devote them to doing Bangkok > Chiang Mai the slow way. Otherwise you could do a side trip from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, though I wouldn't suggest Ko Samet if you'll be hitting Ko Chang at the end. Lots of good islands in Cambodia too.

BTW, December to March is prime island time and they can be pretty damn sweet, especially for travelers your age (I really love some of the islands off the Andaman coast of Thailand down south). You might get to the islands at the very end and be like, "why the hell didn't we spend more time here?" Exploring overland is great, but for me, after just finishing a college degree, I'd be looking to kick it on a beach for a while -- and many of the beaches in this part of the world are just incredible.

#4 DLuek has been a member since 19/6/2008. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,284
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