Hi - my boyfriend and I are early 20-somethings who have backpacked around Europe extensively and we are now planning a trip to SE asia from mid-May to mid-July. We don't really have any plans, other than we are flying into Thailand (seems to be the cheapest), and potentially flying out of there as well. We are interested in seeing Thailand and Indonesia, maybe Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia...we really don't know! We are totally open to suggestions. Can anyone recommend a good 2 month loop around the area, or things we shouldn't miss? Any help is appreciated!
With 2 months I would try to stick with 3 countries and try to do most of it overland, rather than flying, although AirAsia can get you around pretty cheaply. Can you tell us more about your interests? I am big into the national parks/jungles. Near Bangkok you've got Khao Yai, but if you want to get more off the beaten path you can try Thap Lan NP. If you'red heading down the peninsula for the islands I suggest stopping for a few days in Phetchaburi and seeing that very mellow and traditional town, and also doing a trek in Kaeng Krachan NP. Skip Hua Hin while you're in the vicinity. Further down south Khao Sok NP is a must. Many of the beaches on Ko Samui (don't recommend it at all) and even on Koh Phang Ngan are becoming seriously over-developed. Ko Ra on the Andaman Sea, however, looks inviting and promising (Google it; there is a bungalow operation by the same name on that island). Sri Phang Nga NP is also nice, and it's over by Ko Ra. Phuket Old town is pretty nice, but I would skip the rest of Phuket entirely. I like inland Krabi and Khao Phnom Bencha NP, but I hear Phi Phi has been more or less annihilated by development. This is a nice place to stay up near limestone crags of inland Krabi.
Nakhon Si Thammarat is also a nice small city with simply incredible food. The village of Ban Khiriwong in the foothills of Khao Luang NP is lovely. I would take it the trip all the way down to Satun province and do Ko Tarutao and Ko Lipe, and also spend a night in Thale Ban NP before heading south into Malaysia. You can do peninsular Malaysia and then get a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Cambodia and start another great adventure there.
Wow, sounds great! Thanks for the info. We are big hikers/scuba divers, so we definitely want to get off the beaten path and avoid overdeveloped/tourist-y areas. Other than Thailand, we are leaning towards Malaysia. Do you think Cambodia would make the best 3rd country? We were leaning towards Indonesia, but Cambodia also looks great.
That's a tough choice. I love both Cambodia and Indonesia. If you are in Kuala Lumpur, then it is a very short and cheap flight to Sumatra, a place that I have thought about literally every day since I left it in 2008. You could fly from KL to either Medan (and do Gunung Leuser NP) or to Padang and then take a bus to Sungaipenuh and trek Kercini Seblat NP, a park that has the highest concentration of wild tigers in Southeast Asia -check out Wild Sumatra on Facebook for more info on Kercini.
You can see from the info in my signature line that I am also big into trekking in Northeast Cambodia. I'm doing a 14-day trek there next month. However, I think your chances of seeing wildlife are greater in Sumatra. Even in Bukit Lawang, the gateway to Gunung Leuser that is closest to Medan, there are orangutans, Thomas Leaf Monkeys, macaques, monitor lizards, and all sorts of wildlife running around all over the place.
On the contrary, you need to get really, really deep into the Cambodian wilderness to have a chance to spot something (I've seen gibbons, Sambar deer, hornbills, douc langurs, macaques, jungle fowl, flying lizards, snakes, elephant and bear tracks, and more in Virachey NP, but I've visited 3 times and have spent about a month in the park...)
Phnom Penh is more interesting than Medan, in my opinion, but if you want a killer hike with a chance of seeing wildlife, I would probably opt for Sumatra. You can also enter Gunung Leuser from Ketambe. Have a look at these sites: Eyes on Leuser (check out the camera trap videos in there) and Friendship Guesthouse in Ketambe. If you go to Bukit Lawang the Jungle Inn (no web site yet) is simple incredible.
and if you want to get in the water, they say the beaches and diving around Pulau We (an island off the northern tip of Sumatra) are stunning.
and if you really want to get off the beaten path (IMO, Sumatra, as a whole, basically is) then if you were in Padang, then you could take a boat out to the Mentawi Islands.
Great - thanks so much, I really appreciate it. I just did a little research, it all sounds amazing! I was curious on your opinion of the easiest way to travel around Thailand - do you recommend busses, trains, etc to get to the more remote areas? Also, would you recommend hopper flights between countries, or are boats more reasonable? Thank you!
If you book in advance, you can get incredibly cheap tickets on AirAsia. I paid US $62 round trip to fly from Bangkok to Nakhon Si Thammarat earlier this year, and I imagine you could get tickets just as cheap for places like Sura Thani (launching point for Khao Sok NP and the Gulf islands), Krabi, and elsewhere. By the way, TravelFish has a nice piece on Khao Sok here. I also see that the link I supplied for the Mountain View Lodge is dead, but here is a link to a trip report that I wrote about that place and Khao Phnom Bench NP.
If your itinerary is to go from Southern Thailand down into Peninsular Malaysia, then once you're in S.Thailand, I would do the rest overland.
I've never been to Peninsular Malaysia (only Sabah), but this place -Belum Temengor- is supposed to be great, and it borders Thailand. And though I've also never been, I really think that Satun province in Thailand would be worth exploring, what with Ko Taratao, Ko Lipe, and Thale Ban NP. Travelfish has got a good page on Satun.
If you go to Nakhon Si Thammarat, make sure you visit Ban Khiriwong (link up above in my 2nd reply). You can trek up to the top of Khao Luang Mountain. Not many people do it, and you need a guide (as you do for just about all overnight jungle treks in Southeast Asian rain forests -but this is a good thing as you are supporting the community and showing them that the concept of ecotourism might be a viable one; the guides will also point out things that many outsiders would probably miss, they'll probably have knowledge of medicinal plants, they won't get lost (probably), and they probably know some of the local legends and history about the place -all fun things to learn about by the campfire. And I really do recommend doing some overnight treks. Waking up to the sound of gibbons singing is incredible, although you can still hear them in the morning at Khao Sok even if you don't do an overnight trek. I even heard them from the road outside the park at Sri Phang Nga NP.
But to get back and answer your question -yeah, I'd recommend flying from Bangkok to Southern Thailand. 2 months is a good amount of time, but no need to waste any of it on a long tedious train ride which might not even be cheaper than the flight.
I have a suggestion.
You are coming into Asia at the right time to take advantage of the short diving season at Tubbataha Reef. (Mid-April to Mid July)
I believe it will cost a pretty penny to dive there but it is a World Heritage site. Northern Palawan also has some wreck diving, if that interests you.
Northern Palawan is still relatively off the beaten path and undeveloped.
2 months in SEA sound like a dream coming true to me :-)
I am always busy and the longest vacation we ever had in SEA was 1 week and still we had to visit the family in the north :-)
Talking about destinations. I suggest you have a look at the weather statistics and arrange your way through SEA. This year around June was quite a bad time to travel in south thailand. Lots of rainfall, sometimes for 2 weeks in arow (of course not all day long) and sometimes a couple of days with sun and overcast sky. Maybe you try to arrange your loop with the weather forecast, I did that once in Malaysia and it was a great decision.
If I had to choose 3 countries, it would be Thailand, Malaysia and Laos if you wanna see nature or Cambodia for temples. Malaysia has beautiful beaches and Thailand, well it is Thailand :-)
In Malaysia you could do a 4 week loop between Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Malakka, Singapor, Tioman or Pulau Kapas and from there to south Thailand, maybe greater region of Krabi. It has some nice islands there too. If you want to see nature, you can go to Taman Negara, you could use the Kuala Koh entrance to avoid the big crowd. From their you can arrange some hikes to the forrest. Pulau Kapas is a nice little island if you want to do nothing else than laying on the beach, whereas Perhentian and Tioman are great island for having a little fun and some diving.
In Thailand you have to see Chiang Mai and the north. Stay for a couple of days and do some tours with the motorcycle, relax in the hotsprings and do some hikes in the hills. From there you can easily drive over to Laos and start with a 2 day boatride on the Mekong starting from Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang.
Or skip Laos and go to Cambodia to see Siem Reap and the Ankor sites. A must see in SEA. Besides a crazy speed boat ride on Tonle Sap, there is imho not very much to do. Check when the kings funeral is if you wanna visit Phnom Pen, but I think it is around february.
In general, if you wanna get around, flying and train is always the best option. I love the nighttrains, especially in Thailand. Busses are OK but not really comfortable and the drivers drive like crazy. Wanna make it worse, use a minibus. Sometimes they are OK, especially if going from minubus stations, but if going by minibus from Khao San or similar places, expect the best :-)
So in the end, I would make a tour starting from Bangkok with a flight to KL, make a tour through Malaysia and then head up north with bus and train through Thailand to Chiang Mai.
Have fun and I am really jealous :-)
By the way, if you are flying into Bangkok and if this is your first trip to Southeast Asia, I suggest you avoid the Khao San Road, or at least don't get accommodation there. I think it will give you a very bad first impression of the region, as you will be taking in thousands of backpackers walking around in front of Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Burger King -it's pure tourism, and that's all. Sure, there are cheap places to stay there, but, you may very well end up feeling like you haven't really left home, and that is an awful feeling to have, especially after flying across the world.
When are you guys planning on going to Thailand? And what type of trip are you looking for? If spending hours going over Bas Reliefs is your thing, well that will be a totally different trip then Diving and Full Moon Parties.
What is your travel style? Are you a 5 star resort person or a cheap bed with a shared bathroom sort of person? Do you like your activities planned out for you or are you willing to work things out for yourself?
When I travel, I love to get off the beaten path for a part of my trip, but I do enjoy seeing the sights that made the area I'm visiting The Area to Visit. So if I'm going to Bangkok, I'm going to see the tourist filled Wats and backpacker filled Khao San Road or hang out at MBK to see what its all about. I'll also take the Sky Trian, the Canal boats, and hang out in the non-touristy parts of town.
So what are you looking for to make your vacation memorable?
Hi - we have traveled a lot in Europe and done the normal touristy bit as well as the hang out in a village for a week where no one speaks english bit. We definitely like a mixture of both, but we are attempting to travel cheaply - hostels that aren't too dirty, maybe a cheap hotel as well (although sometimes we spring for a really nice night or two). I invision our trip being a mix of seeing the "must-sees" as well as getting lost (so to speak) in some place that is very unfamiliar. We like to hike, scuba, and be outdoors in general, so a lot of that. However, we aren't bringing overnight/trekking gear, so only day trips I suppose. In any case we are pretty easy going and will be more than happy to be living out of our backpacks again! Any sort of direction is much appreciated.