Photo: Street food Phetchaburi Soi 10, Bangkok.

Southeast Asia forum

First ever trip..need a LOT of advice!

Posted by sidewinder on 15/4/2009 at 04:09

Right, here goes...

Ive managed to get a 2 month(ish) sabbatical from work to go travelling.
Leaving at the end of June, returning at the end of August/start of September.
Budget around £3,000

I've gone to a lot of different places before..but always with family/friends, in nice hotels, and never in SE Asia. So this is new, and pretty scary for me.

Most worrying thing is getting it all sorted! So far I havent even booked a flight!
Essentially, I'm planning to get an Air Asia flight from London to Kuala Lumpar, use short flights around the region from AA, and then eventually go onto Australia and then home.
So my first question is - most countries unsurprisingly want to see an onward air ticket right? If I was to produce one leaving from another country, or even if I just booked my return flight to London, would that suffice?

Secondly, my basic plan is:

Malaysia - 10 days
Thailand - 14 days
Vietnam - 7 days
Cambodia - 7 days
Laos - 7 days
Then Australia after that.

They dont have to go in that order, in fact aside from reading a few guides Ive not got a clue what the best route is, and how to get there (eg fly everywhere, boat, bus??)

Is that a realistic amount of time per country? I suppose I really need to start narrowing down which actual towns and cities I want to visit right?
And should I just have a rough idea how much time to spend in each place with no hard plans? Last thing I want is to have to leave somewhere I like early and stay somewhere Im not keen on too long.

Thirdly, accomodation. I'm going for hostels & guesthouses all the way. Should I book any of this beforehand or literally just arrive in Malaysia and 'wing it'?
Bearing in mind Ive never travelled alone before :-/

Lastly, is it normal to be extremely excited one day, then terrified the next?? lol

Sorry if this post is so general its hard for anyone to help, Im just totally overwhelmed, and even with excellent sites such as Travelfish, Im still struggling to get anything done...

#1 sidewinder has been a member since 11/4/2009. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 57
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Posted by exacto on 15/4/2009 at 09:20


Good on you for taking the time for a proper holiday. It should be great. And yes, it is normal to be very excited one day and terrified the next. But don't worry. Southeast Asia is a pretty travel-friendly place, and most folks I've met have been able to make their way through the region with very few problems at all.

I think the most important thing to do is to figure our your arrival and departure (starting and ending) points, and then let your itinerary fill in as your plans develop and as you learn more about where you'll be travelling.

Your itinerary is possible, but as you've got it now, it is quite a bit of moving around, and I fear you'll be spending much of your time getting from A to B rather than enjoying A and B. Should you still decide that you want to visit all five countries, I might try going from Malaysia to Thailand to Laos to Cambodia to Vietnam, in that order, as sort of a big loop. But I imagine that your ending point will be decided, at least in part, by flight cost and availability too for the trip to Oz.

(by the way, i think all of those countries except vietnam have visa on arrival, which should make things much easier for you as you move about)

Anyway, take a look at the itinerary suggestions on Travelfish and see if that doesn't give you a better idea of how you'd like to map out your trip. You've still got plenty of time to fill in the details, so, as the Hitchhiker's Guide says, don't panic. After you've done a bit more research you can come back on the forum with more specific questions and you'll get it all sorted. Cheers.

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Posted by dageshi on 16/4/2009 at 12:48

Firstly most countries say that they want an onwards ticket, in practice they don't care, largely that rule is in place to prevent people coming into countries to work illegally e.t.c. so frankly if your traveling on a western passport eu/uk/us e.t.c you'll have no problems whatsoever.

The airasiax into malaysia is a good option, but the further in advance you book tickets on budget airlines the cheaper they'll be, so if you know your starting in malaysia and you know when your leaving, go ahead and book it.

In terms of your itinerary, frankly your trying to pack an *awful lot in* my personal feeling is that your going to exhaust yourself unless you put in some break stops at the beach. Your also probably best off figuring out what's best in each country and visiting that, treat south east asia as one big country and find the most interesting element in each.

So personally I would do something along the lines of

Enter Thailand from Malaysia
Check out the Thai Islands along the coast
Head to Bangkok
Head to Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Head to Sihanoukville for some relaxing (you'll need some after Angkor Wat)

Head down the coast into vietnam to Saigon
Catch a plane up too Hanoi, (it takes 2-3 days just to catch the train up the coast in Vietnam) and visit halong bay, sapa e.t.c
Then perhaps into laos, across laos (not been there so not sure how practical this is) and into northen Thailand. Work your way down.

This is a reasonably sensible route, it gets you moving in one big circle, starts and end in Thailand and means you don't have to do much doubling back.

In terms of accomodation, I personally would never book in advance unless there's a national holiday on. So with your budget I would say you can afford rooms in the $15-20 range, there are plenty of these in SEA and are usually very good quality. Hope that helps.

#3 dageshi has been a member since 1/3/2008. Posts: 56

Posted by seagypsy on 23/4/2009 at 09:48

Lots of great advice already but I'm suggesting an alternative route that's more of a loop than a sideways 'S' so that you don't have to enter Thailand twice.
Fly Air Asia to Siem Reap and start your travels in Indochina and Thailand from there:
Angkor is absolutely incredible and I'd suggest 3-4 days (3 day pass)for this area.
Then take a VIP bus such as Mekong Express to Phnom Penh departing Siem Reap in the early morning--approx. 5 hours
A couple days in PP should suffice with visits to S-21 and the Killing Fields.
If you don't have a Viet visa, then you should apply for the visa via a travel/visa agency in Siem Reap. 3 days should suffice for processing time.
Take Mekong Express to Saigon/HCMC or fly.
OR, if available fly to Danang for Hoi-An (a short transfer away)--good for a couple days then van up to Hue which is also good for 2-3 days before train/van up to Hanoi .
3-4 days for Hanoi including a daytrip to Halong Bay but you can skip it if you're going to the beaches off krabi or Pranang.

Fly Hanoi to Luang Prabang and spend you're whole time there including a 3 day visit to Nong Khiaw and/or Moung Ngoi.
Then fly Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai or Bangkok and work your way to the southern beaches.

#4 seagypsy has been a member since 5/2/2009. Posts: 136

Posted by brucemoon on 27/4/2009 at 12:36


I want to re-iterate what everyone else has said...

Your proposed itinerary has you spending more time travelling than 'being' in the various places.

As I've said on these pages before: if you want to spend your time looking at the inside of transport, why spend so much money going half way round the world when you can do it more cheaply at home.

Please try and work out what your primary focus really is. Is it to return home and say to people "I've been there!", or is it to experience the cultural enjoyments that a place has to offer?

My personal view is to wipe Australia off the list. I'm an Australian and I must say that 10 days does nothing to 'address' the enjoyment of Australia.

Second, I'd support the general tenor of what others have said/inferred. Just choose to start at a place and have a rough idea of what you'd like to do / go, and be prepared to alter as you see fit.

Third - and perhaps most importantly - after arriving in KL, choose to fly to ONLY one location, then bus/train it thereafter (or as dageshi suggested, move northwards from KL towards Thailand).

Frankly, I also wouldn't suggest you entertain Vietnam: there really isn't enough time. And, the clash of cultural values (to that of Thailand, Laos & Cambodia) would be too jarring. Better to entertain Vietnam on another occasion.

I note you suggest you want to use backpacker/guesthouses, etc. That says to me that you are on a budget. In SEA, when you pre-book, you have to take the price that the GH wants. Except for peak periods, if you rock up and seek a bed, then you can generally bargain. I was in Chiang Mai a month ago and GH's had very few occupants. The prices were easily negotiable. However, I was in Luang Prabang at Pii Mai, and the place was full (I knew and had pre-booked). So, go to Lonely Planet and look at the festival dates for the places you want to go. In 2009 (in the current credit situation), if no festival, there won't be much demand for GH beds.

If I was in your circumstances, I'd pre-book a hotel in KL (city) so that when you get to KL airport you can take the 8RM bus to KL Sentral and go to your accommodation.

Then, I'd stay there for at least 3 days.

Then, I'd take the train to Penang (at least another 2 days there), then onto Thailand.

The southern peninsula Thailand is a wonderfully scenic area. The Phuket area has resorts along the coast for jaded fat westerners. These may not be your 'scene'. Even so, as your 'time' coincides with the Australian winter, there is demand for this type of accommodation at that time. If GH's are your target, I suggest you'll be OK.

Remember, talk to others at GH's coming from where you intend to go to get an idea of qualities, prices, etc.

I'd suggest you'll probably easily spend from 7 - 10 days in the southern Thai peninsula before heading to Bangkok (BKK). BKK is hectic and can be so much fun. You'll hardly touch the place if you plan for less than 4 full days in BKK.

You'll have to determine whether you travel overland to BKK from the Phuket / Ko Samui area, or fly. If the latter, inexpensive flights are usually available a few days before departing.

I'd also suggest you try and head to Kanchanaburi to comprehend the 'price' your forebears paid for your freedom.

From BKK, many head to Chiang Mai (at least 3 full days there) before heading out and around to 'taste' what the north has to offer (Pai, Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang, etc.).

Many then head to Chiang Khong (often via Chiang Rai) to cross the border into Laos (at Huay Xai). From there you can go to Luang Prabang 2 ways:

1. overland to Luang Nam Tha (and trekking at Vieng Phuka in the Nam Ha NP) [also check out if you want the most wonderfully enjoyable experience of your life), or

2. down the Mekong River by slow boat (references on Travelfish).

From Luang Prabang, many enjoy the fun at Vang Vieng, before heading to Plain of Jars and/or Vientiane. From Luang Prabang, travel is slow (buses must travel on really rough roads) and unless you don't like conversation, this relaxedness will earn you many friendships with fellow travellers.

From Vientiane, you can either continue your travel to Cambodia overland. Or, if time is limited, fly to Siem Reap (Angkor).

If overland, you can choose either through Thailand (if so, explore Esan and re-enter Laos via Ubon Ratchathani and Pakse to visit 100 islands and border cross at Voen Kham), or continue through Laos.

To do the Ankorian temples justice (assuming you have an interest in ancient culture), you'd need to plan for at least 4 days in Siem Reap. As an aside, look at Lonely Planet and determine a 'strategy' to view the huge number of temples (I personally used time of erection. Others use time of erection with a limitation of stars [ie. ruling out those that don't achieve a 3 or more star). There is a huge lake nearby - Tonle Sap - which on an environmental basis is worth trying to spend a day or two, try in between temple visiting).

From Cambodia, pre-book a flight back to KL. You may choose Siem Reap, or Phnom Penh. If PP, plan to visit the genocide 'museum', it not only help explain the 'situation' currently existing in Cambodia, but is also a telling reminder of man's inhumanity to man.

What ever you do, plan to take it slowly, and avoid the trap of so many by refusing to speed up just in case you 'miss something'. The faster you go, and the more things you try and 'see', the more likely you'll miss everything (except the insides of whatever transport you take).

I know flying is 'quicker', but it's also a time waster, expensive, and you do miss out on the cultural interactions that occur on local transport.

Hope this helps.


#5 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by sidewinder on 28/4/2009 at 21:14

Thankyou so much everyone for the replies - much more detailed than I expected which is really welcome for a first timer than me since it answers some of the 'how the hell do i get from x to x?!' type questions :)

In regards to some points raised:

Yes I was probably being a bit optimistic with the list of places I originally had in mind, so will trim this down - currently thinking just Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Oz.
And I'm certainly not going to places just to say 'ive been there' - Im not that kind of person - I just want to go and relax, enjoy myself, meet new people and enjoy some new experiances. No need for a specific itinery.

As for Australia, I know its an extra place to pack in, and it really deserves a month or 2 on its own (which I will do someday), but there are a few places I really want to go and there are some friends and their relatives I would like to meet up with - so while 10-14 days wont be a massive amount of time, its something I want to do this year.

From all this, I'll try to sketch out a rough plan of where I want to go and if I come across any gaps I'll post back!

Of course, all this planning could be a waste of time if they've banned air travel due to swine flu by the time I leave! ;)

#6 sidewinder has been a member since 11/4/2009. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 57
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Posted by brucemoon on 29/4/2009 at 04:39


When you get to SE Asia, many places you stay will have world television (ie. CNN, NBC, BBC, CNC, Al Jazeera, etc.). By cross checking a story, you'll see that the media from English speaking countries really love to focus on fear issues (rather than provide objective information).

Swine Flu is an example. Yes, it's a disease that one must address. And, yes, it's contagious. But, it's a disease caused by human demand for meat processed in 'farm factories' using artificial food (pig food contains up to 25% chicken excrement!!) and growth hormones.

Like SARS, the health people will find a solution. In politico-administrative terms, the media 'fear' aspect can be seen as a reporting of bureaucratic information as they feed the media so that the public will support large public expenditure on the matter. The alternative would be to do what China, Vietnam & Indonesia did for SARS - destroy all the 'farm factory' chickens. But, if Mexico destroyed all the 'swine flu' pigs, what would American's do without their bacon or Spam?

As an aside, in SE Asia, it was only the farmed chickens that were affected by SARS. As you will discover, there are 'range' chickens running around everywhere (even beside the chicken 'farms') and they were not affected by SARS.

As for air travel, passenger numbers may be (temporarily) down, some will wear (uncomfortable) masks, but most will take it in their stride.


#7 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by bc3000 on 29/4/2009 at 22:47

Posted from within Vietnam.

Hey! I'm in Vietnam atm on my first trip outside of Europe :) There's honestly nothing to be scared about. If you land in Bangkok, it's super Westernized and it's a bit crazy I guess but you'll be fine, stay in dorms if you can and you'll meet so many people. Even if you stay in your own room you'll meet people so randomly, like at restaurants or just if you get lost or something. Most people will have been or will be going to similar places as you. Book your first night or two of accommodation, but other than that it's so easy to find other places. It's all gonna be easier than you think it will. Any problems along the way and there's either someone else there with you in the same situation, or someone willing to help for a bit of money lol. :) Good luck booking everything. Try and keep your itinerary quite flexible just in case of little things like public holidays, weather, or if you meet someone you click with or you love a city and want to stay longer, you know?

#8 bc3000 has been a member since 29/4/2009. Posts: 3

Posted by sidewinder on 4/9/2009 at 20:36

Well, thought I would post a quick reply about how the trip actually went. Think sometimes on forums like this there is a lot of great advice given, but too rarely does anyone get to hear how things actually panned out. Or maybe thats just me!

Anyway, the trip was incredible. Highlights by far outweighed the lowlights and thats as much as you can hope for I guess!

In the end I flew into Bangkok, as it was slightly cheaper, and after going to KL later on, I'm glad I started there. While I know Khao San Road gets a lot of flack from experianced travellers, and yes it isnt Thai at all and a total tourist trap, BUT it was a great introduction for me and enabled me to get used to the whole socialising alone thing, and I met some great people who helped ease me into my few days in Bangkok.

After about 4/5 days I went to Cambodia. Got the public bus to Aranyaprathet, and then had a taxi arranged on the other side to take me to Siem Reap , which did take some of the stress out, but it was still quite an 'experiance' crossing that border considering I'd been in Asia less than a week at the time.
Obviously once in Siem Reap spent a couple of days at Angkor and many other temples, and it was quite easily the best 'cultural' thing I did on the trip and one of the most spectacular places I've ever seen in my life. I've seen people on here wonder whether it's 'worth it' - without a doubt YES!
Moved onto Phnom Penh for a few days, did the Killing Fields, S21, Palace, Wat Phnom, and of course some partying, and then onto Sihanoukville.
Hadnt planned to go to S'ville, but it seemed a more sensible way of getting back into Thailand. Well, what a sh*thole. It may have been slightly better had there not been torrential rain but it just seemed really seedy and not much fun. Probably should have gone somewhere else but oh well.

From there, went across the border and went to Ko Chang for around 5 days. Really enjoyed it there, despite a lot of rain. Lonely Beach was VERY quiet, so was a very chilled out atmosphere with some great people, and there was one nice day where I could go and admire some of the waterfalls and go elephant trekking.

Then I went to Ko Samet for 2/3 days. Very quiet, very relaxing and no rain! Good island to chill out on.

After 1 day in Bangkok again I got a bus down to Surat Thani and then a boat across to Ko Samui. Despite the nice beaches and lively nightlife, this wasnt one of my favourite places. Really could have been in the Costa del Sol at times.

From there moved onto Krabi for 1 night and then Ko Phi Phi for around 6, with a great group of people, and was again very quiet as most people were heading over for the FMP at the time.

Reluctantly left there, and got a flight from Krabi to KL (first in 6 weeks) where I spent 5 days, and there was plenty to fill my time: Batu Caves, Islamic Arts museum etc.

Then jetted off to Sydney, spent 5 days sightseeing, then Melbourne for 6 days. All good fun and saw a lot but couldnt help thinking I should have followed Bruce's advice and stayed in Asia - Oz really needs a trip of its own, and it would have been nice to see more of Malaysia.
But no regrets, met some great people in Oz.

Back to Bangkok for a few days then I was home! Went by in a flash but it was the best thing Ive ever done, saw so much, met amazing people, and I cant wait to go back to take in Vietnam, Laos and everywhere else I missed out on.
Cannot believe how nervous I was at the time and how confident I was when I came back. If you are in my position and are unsure about going alone - JUST DO IT

Ok that was actually quite a long post, so no-one will probably read it ;) but I couldnt make it much shorter
All I can say is thankyou for the advice! I did take some, especially about being flexible and not having a set plan. That was the best thing, if I had booked flights beforehand I would have felt frustrated at having to leave places I was enjoying

#9 sidewinder has been a member since 11/4/2009. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 57
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Posted by hokasch on 4/9/2009 at 20:52

Glad you had a great time, and thanks for reporting back!

#10 hokasch has been a member since 24/12/2008. Posts: 45

Posted by somtam2000 on 4/9/2009 at 21:00 admin

sidewinder -- thanks for the report back -- much appreciated.

JUST DO IT -- absolutely!

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Posted by BruceMoon on 5/9/2009 at 05:44


It's really great to hear in detail your enjoyments.

I was heartened by your conclusion...

"All I can say is thankyou for the advice! I did take some, especially about being flexible and not having a set plan. That was the best thing, if I had booked flights beforehand I would have felt frustrated at having to leave places I was enjoying


#12 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by busylizzy on 5/9/2009 at 07:39

Glad you had a great trip. And I think your feedback will provide good encouragement to other 'newbies' still nervously planning their own trips.

#13 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,152
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Posted by MADMAC on 8/9/2009 at 11:43

OK, everyone else gave you the don't be scared... this place is so easy to get along in.

I am not sure why you are racing about from cuntry to country though. If it were me I would pick one and explore it thoroughly. Language is culture, so unless you spend enough time to learn some of the language, you are basically not experiencing any meaningful culture.

#14 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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