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Thailand forum

My start to life on the open road. What shouldn't be missed?

Posted by SimplyKitty on 15/4/2014 at 10:33

Good Day to you Travel Fish Folk...

I am a 31 year old female closing down on the easy life in the west and hitting the road on my own on the 3rd November. Bit of a late starter...? Yeah well no one else was going to pay for me to do this so I have had to work my a** off and still will be until the month before I go..

The plan is simple - I have ended work and will be on the road for a minimum of 5 years. I don't assume this will be an easy ride so spare me the lectures...[img]smileys/wink.gif[/img]... what I do expect is a life altering experience nothing else could offer so I have finally put the wheels in motion.

I have many places within this beautiful planet that I intend on seeing but I shan't bore you with the grit just now - what I will say is that my traverse of this great open space we call Earth will commence in Bangkok.

I don't need cities any more - I am leaving London for a reason. Yes they have a different vibe but I want to get into the wilds. Packed to the neck with malaria tablets I need advice from you about what NOT to miss. I will be in Bangkok for two days though.... hotel booked already (get me)...

I have 6 months in South East Asia with the aim to see Thailand, then Myanmar, back into Thailand and through to Laos, then Cambodia and ending in Vietnam where I will catch the Reunification Express to Hanoi ( train loving geek ), continue to Shanghai and catch a ferry to Japan in order to celebrate my next birthday in April under the Cherry Blossoms of Kyoto...(I can expand on the route if you really want)....

From there I leave on a plane to Australia with my Australian passport tucked firmly under my hate....(lucky dual-nationed mare) but yes I will be back to SEA - for now though... for my first experience........ where would you suggest??.. A route perhaps to ensure I see as muchus as possible... already seen this the Route Map thingy someone else posted...

What I like as a guideline...? ($1000-$1300 US Dollars a month although would like to come considerably under this.....)

Being outdoors
Living as cheaply as possible
Roughing it a little
Safety (as a chick on my own)
Getting off the beaten track.
No alcohol fueled venues or drug induced menus thanks...
Train travel over buses
Overland travel
Motorbikes (3 years experience on a 650cc..)
Being on my own and trying something entirely new...
Water, swimming in it and drinking it, but waterfalls are particularly a favorite (promise not to drink from it though)...

There - now what is hidden away off the beaten track that only a lunatic would walk to find? I don't mind walking anywhere...

First stop after Bangkok... 10 days to relax, unwind and get to grips with the fact I don't ever have to go "back" if I don't want to.........

Thanks in advance.....

#1 SimplyKitty has been a member since 13/4/2014. Location: Earth. Posts: 10

Posted by Tilapia on 15/4/2014 at 12:42


Your budget looks quite good for Thailand, Laos and Cambodia (not sure about Vietnam), but you'll probably need more than that for Burma as costs have skyrocketed there. You might also want to try and get there before the holiday season begins in full, and stay for as long as possible. When I was there it was possible to extend a month-long visa by 2 weeks. I wish I had, and that was before the south had begun to open. I don't know if that's changed since then. A month will go very quickly there.

You've got heaps of time. Here's what might be considered a bit of an odd recommendation for Thailand (and Laos, as well) ... if you want to really get off the beaten path and be able to explore until your heart's content, get a 2-month tourist visa before arriving, then buy or rent a bicycle and a couple of panniers and cycle along the Mekong, or down into the south. Or do a loop that takes in parts of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. You'll see the place more slowly, will have your own transportation, will meet loads of people, and will keep your expenses in check.

Thailand is (arguably) a very bike-friendly country, especially in the more rural areas. Distances between towns and villages in most areas are very short, food and water are available practically everywhere, and you'll likely never have trouble finding a place to sleep for the night. There are bike shops everywhere, and loads of resources for riding there. It's also less expensive than renting a motorcycle, though a motorcycle is better on the hills and gets you where you want to be a lot faster. It's also possible to take a bike on just about any type of public transport there is over there.

Feel free to PM me if you'd like more info on this sort of thing.

#2 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,499
 Where has Tilapia been? 

Posted by SimplyKitty on 15/4/2014 at 16:47

Tilapia - thank you for your response! This is an amazing idea. I had considered a motorbike but the prices are ridiculous and I am not looking forward to looking after the mechanics side of things - so a push bike sounds like a brilliant idea! The Mekong was on my list as well by motorbike but if you say it can be done on a push bike I would love to do that.

Yes I have read Myanmar is getting very expensive so I might have limited time there - a friend is working for an aid agency through our church so they might be in need of assistance in return for free accommodation which might lower how much I spend in Myanmar but this is not something I can count on and obviously I would be based somewhere and it won't cover prices of accommodation elsewhere if I intend to travel about - ummm yes!!. Otherwise it would have been next on my list after 2-3 weeks of "relax" in Thailand.

Is this something you have done yourself? Is there anything I should consider taking with me that might be expensive / hard to find out there for life on a bike... SO glad you suggested this idea. Superb!!

#3 SimplyKitty has been a member since 13/4/2014. Location: Earth. Posts: 10

Posted by Tilapia on 15/4/2014 at 18:36

Enable your Private Messaging function, okay?

#4 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,499
 Where has Tilapia been? 

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 15/4/2014 at 18:49

Dont need a plan with all that time.

#5 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by AbigailatPenhandInk on 15/4/2014 at 23:43 TF writer

It's reasonably easy to motorbike around Cambodia, just take some time to learn the rules of the road first. Don't worry too much about the mechanics - if you have a Honda, there are many, many roadside places that can fix you up cheaply if you have a problem.

That said, bus journeys are usually cheaper for long distances, then you can hire a bike when you arrive somewhere to go out exploring.

You might like to look into:
Riverside places to stay in Kampot - check out Greenhouse and the newly opened Eden Eco Village
Camping on Koh Ta Kiev at Crusoe Island
Accommodation away from the main beach on Koh Rong - maybe Palm Beach or Soksan village
Visiting Koh Rong Samloem when it's not full moon, or staying at M'Pei Bei village instead of on Saracen Bay beach (The Beach on Saracen Bay has a full moon party, which doesn't sound like your thing!)
Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri provinces in the north - trekking options with overnight hammock stays
Preah Vihear temple - not well touristed and a bit off the beaten track
Kampong Cham - again, not a popular backpacker location, but beautiful countryside and the fabulous bamboo bridge in dry season
Trails and excursions from Kratie, going north towards Laos

You can extend your one month tourist visa for a second month, so you can take it slowly around Cambodia. Enjoy!

#6 AbigailatPenhandInk has been a member since 9/11/2010. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 179

Posted by gregmccann1 on 16/4/2014 at 01:57

We could use your help with the Virachey NP camera-trap ecotourism program. You could plan to be in Ratanakiri anywhere from November to April and join the Park rangers on a trek to service the motion-triggered cameras that we have set up in there. And from Ratanakiri it's easy to get to the 4,000 Islands of Laos, to Vietnam, or down south into Mondulkiri.

#7 gregmccann1 has been a member since 28/10/2009. Location: Taiwan. Posts: 183

Posted by SimplyKitty on 16/4/2014 at 02:03

Tilapia - done!

LeonardCohen1 - Maybe not so much a plan as an itinerary. I am a little pedantic like that and it's something I'm hoping life on the unpredictable road might cure. Who knows. Just want to make sure I take in some of the best on offer.

Abigail - Wonderful suggestions thank you! If thats the case with motorbike repairs I couldn't really not try it at least once. I am selling my 650cc before I go and can't imagine 5 years without getting back on one. SEA would be amazing although I am aware the roads aren't always so amazing - we shall have to wait and see on that one.

Gonna be doing a little Cambodia research today I think so thank you very much!

#8 SimplyKitty has been a member since 13/4/2014. Location: Earth. Posts: 10

Posted by SimplyKitty on 16/4/2014 at 02:17

I am going to look at that link. But yes this could easily be on my itinerary. My private messaging has been enabled so feel free to inbox and tell me more about you and the project. I don't mind any questions etc so fire away. However $50 a day is very expensive despite the experience considering the trek will most likely be over a period of days it will add up fast.........and I am not eating snake!

#9 SimplyKitty has been a member since 13/4/2014. Location: Earth. Posts: 10

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 16/4/2014 at 05:44

I would jot down some basic re visa.lengths plus a few areas that appeal.

5 yrs is so long u cant really plan that much. After a yr u might be over it anyway.

#10 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by SimplyKitty on 16/4/2014 at 06:03

- only 6 months in SEA. See my first post.

#11 SimplyKitty has been a member since 13/4/2014. Location: Earth. Posts: 10

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 16/4/2014 at 06:11

Oh ok. Even still i wouldnt plan much. Just work out visas. U dont know how much u a place until u get there.

For example many love chiang mai yet i found it a tourist ghetto and boring.

Many rave about.koh pha ngan yet i found it to be lame.

Until u go u dont know if u like it.

#12 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by SimplyKitty on 16/4/2014 at 07:30

It's not so much the plan but the idea of what not to miss - perhaps someone might suggest something I have not heard of. A bit of personal research around that idea might render it a moot point and I will leave it out.... or I might detour to see it .... who knows until I ask right?

On the idea of Visa's.. I will start with the Thai visa from here and see if I can get a multiple entry one (their website is confusing) then apply for or work out which ones I need as and when I decide to travel into the country of choice... but yes, many lists have been made so far..

#13 SimplyKitty has been a member since 13/4/2014. Location: Earth. Posts: 10

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 16/4/2014 at 09:53

You might like Khong Chiam, Trang and Prachuap as off the path places but there are no must see places. Everybody likes different things.

#14 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by MADMAC on 16/4/2014 at 11:18

Want to go live with my father in law for a while? That will be a true "homestay" experience.

However, he doesn't speak English. Nor does hardly anyone in the village. The village is close to nothing. So it's sink or swim.

The house is dirty - like most farmers houses in Issan. He doesn't have a wife, and so it only gets cleaned periodically. You get used to it though.

You will not see another tourist. Guaranteed.

It will be the authentic Thai rural experience.

I'll bet he'd let you stay cheap. Toss him 3,000 baht a month and you'd be in.

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

Posted by SimplyKitty on 17/4/2014 at 05:10

Madmac I am not sure whether you are being serious or not! Lol!

#16 SimplyKitty has been a member since 13/4/2014. Location: Earth. Posts: 10

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 17/4/2014 at 06:41

Old guy might get a few ideas

#17 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by SimplyKitty on 17/4/2014 at 07:21

Kinda what I was worried about...

#18 SimplyKitty has been a member since 13/4/2014. Location: Earth. Posts: 10

Posted by MADMAC on 17/4/2014 at 13:59

I am just pointing out if you wantthe "real deal" (and let's be honest, nobody does) I can make it happen for you.

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

Posted by DLuek on 17/4/2014 at 22:51 TF writer

Some ideas based on your original post (I know Thailand best by far but will throw in a few things from Vietnam and Laos as well):

Being outdoors / Roughing it a little / Trees
- Camp or stay in a cheap bungalow in or around a national park, like Khao Sok or Khao Yai.
- Do some trekking in northern Thailand, such as around Umphang and Mae Sot or further north around Pai and Chiang Rai.
- Spend an extended period on a Thai island for nature lovers, many of which are national parks themselves, or Thai island to lose yourself on. Note that Ko Kut should be added to either of those lists and is supposed to be fabulous.
- Tour some of Laos' NBCAs (protected areas), which can be done by a mix of trekking, cycling and vehicles and can include homestays in remote villages, so that could go in your "Getting off the beaten track" category as well. However they can only be done through organized tours as far as I know.
- Also some great trekking in northern Vietnam and Cambodia's Cardamom mountains.

Living as cheaply as possible
- In terms of general day-to-day ways to save: Don't drink much if at all; stay in cheap guesthouses with shared bathrooms; if on expensive islands look a bit inland for cheaper rooms; eat street food; use local transport; spend longer periods in cheaper areas; and stick to small towns rather than big cities and popular islands.
- In terms of more focused ways to really save some cash over extended periods, consider spending some time volunteering (but choose wisely and don't pay much if anything to do so); consider staying in a Buddhist temple to practice meditation if that interests you.
- Though it might be a bit late if you haven't started already, you could look into travel hacking as a way to save substantial cash. I'm not an expert, but supposedly Chris Guillebeau, Nomadic Matt and Extra Pack of Peanuts are. All of those sites will also have general tips on budget travel.

- I'm a guy so no matter how hard I try to relate to the experience of being a solo female traveler, I'll never know what it's actually like. That said, using common sense goes a very long way. As a female (again I'm far from an expert!), it seems like the most important thing is to not accept rides from, or go anywhere with guys (local or foreign) who you don't know well, especially if you've had a few drinks. To extend on that point, I've found that being sober, aware of my surroundings and respectful as possible of the local cultural norms is all that's needed to stay safe. I always keep my valuables on me (never leave them in a bag stowed beneath a bus) but haven't found money belts and the like necessary. Others might disagree. Do be on the look out for scams but don't be so guarded that you expect every local who starts talking to you to be a scammer. Speaking loudly and aggressively is very much frowned upon in Southeast Asia. I've found that smiling and having a sort of breezy attitude is the best way to deflect potential scammers while giving those with genuine intentions a chance. As I've gotten more of a grip on the Thai language and more experience here, I've found that the vast majority of people who approach travelers (yes even the touts and travel agents) are just decent people trying to earn a living or just practice their English. I've been approached by some weirdos but that's no different than anywhere. The key is to know how much things should actually cost before agreeing to any purchases. Also you'll want to make sure taxi drivers use the meter.

- Greg McCann is top-notch when it comes to tracking wildlife and what not so I'd definitely look into his suggestion about the Virachey NP project.
- You also might consider volunteering at (or just visiting) Elephants World in Kanchanaburi or Patara Elephant Farm in Chiang Mai , both of which are doing great work (I'm personally against the usual tourist elephant camps as they're not good for the animals). Another option could be volunteering at somewhere like Baan Unrak in Sangkhlaburi or the Animal Welfare Center on Ko Lanta, which would also tie into the saving money bit.

Getting off the beaten track
- Some of my favorite "offbeat" spots in Thailand include Samut Songkhram, Sangkhlaburi, Chanthaburi, Sangkhom, Phimai and Mukdahan. Haven't been yet but I've also heard good things about Nakhon Phanom. Also some of the non-touristy islands like Ko Libong, Ko Siboya and Ko Si Chang -- there's nothing like a traditional fishing village that hasn't been "spoiled" by tourism. In Vietnam, Sapa isn't really considered off the beaten track anymore, but you can motorbike way out into some mountain villages and markets that haven't changed much for centuries. Vietnam's Central Highlands and Southern Laos might also be worth considering.

No alcohol-fueled venues...
- Pretty simple here: avoid Pattaya altogether and if you go somewhere like Phuket, Ko Pha Ngan or Ko Phi Phi, do your research to make sure you're not staying in the middle of a full-moon party or red-light district.

Overland travel / Train travel over buses
- Thailand's train system is old and slow, but I still enjoy it from time to time for the scenery... If you look in the transport section of the Travelfish page for any destination it will tell you if getting there by train is an option. I've not done any remarkably scenic train rides in Thailand, but the coastal ride from Nha Trang to Da Nang in Vietnam is spectacular. There are no trains in Cambodia or Laos. Seat61 has everything you could want to know on train travel worldwide.

- I like Tilapia's suggestion to go with a push bike, even if I myself aren't too keen on peddling for hours through the 40-degree heat. :) A couple of former Travelfish writers cycled all the way from Bangkok to Singapore -- looked exhilarating if not exactly fun.
- Whether you go with a bicycle or motorbike, I recommend bringing a smartphone with local sim card and portable charger. I could care less about browsing the web, but the GPS mapping is invaluable and has revolutionized the way I travel. Aside from never getting lost, being able to find (and take) the back-roads in the middle of a journey has led me to happen upon some great finds that would have otherwise stayed hidden.
In terms of actual motorbiking trips, you might consider:
- The Mae Hong Son loop
- North Thailand loop
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- Motorbiking the Mekong in Thailand
- Vietnam's Central Highlands
Those are just a few ideas; a lot of people motorbike Vietnam from top to tale and the like.

Water / waterfalls
- Islands!
- Southeast Asia is studded with waterfalls... Some great ones in Khao Yai and around Umphang and Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. For an island, Ko Chang has a bunch of good waterfalls.

Being on my own and trying something entirely new...
- I can't offer any specific suggestions as I don't know what you've done and so what would be entirely new, but here are a few general suggestions:
- Don't have any expectations. While it's good to get a lot of ideas for things you might enjoy or find fulfilling, having expectations is a bad idea. My opinion is that disappointment results from expectations, which are almost never met in the ways people initially envision. Amazing things will happen, but usually not in the way you might expect. During the planning stage, travelers tend to build up all of these daydreams and expectations of how their travels will be. Then they get there and realize that for every hour of doing something incredible, there are many more hours of tiresome travel, loneliness and boredom, which leads to the next point...
- Be weary of "aimless wandering". I did the whole "just go out there and not have a plan thing" and found that it didn't really work for me. While it's good to leave your options open, it's also good to have some sort of focus for your travels. Whether that's volunteering, yoga, meditation, being really immersed in a culture (as in actually living and working somewhere and getting to know the locals and language), learning a cuisine, photography, blogging / travel writing or anything else that fits your own personality, having some things that you're actively working on and seeking out will give your travels a sense of purpose. When I went off to travel indefinitely almost three years ago (having already tried the aimless wandering thing and failed miserably as a penny-less pile of self-pity), I left myself the space and time to explore at first, but also sought to find something to keep myself occupied. For me, that something turned out to be travel writing. "Finding myself" has been all about striking a balance between a) experiencing the "here and now" through awareness, b) searching to discover what's really important to me, and c) developing goals for the future based on what I've found to be really important.

In any case, I wish you all of the best. You're really fortunate to be able to do what you're doing.

#20 DLuek has been a member since 19/6/2008. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,176
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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 17/4/2014 at 23:05

Shared bathrooms suck. Lets be honest here. For a trip like this u can rent decent private room with ensuite for a week or a month. A monthly rate can work out the same as 2 weeks paying by the night.

Dluek is right though
U need activities and goals. Wandering aimlessly gets boring real quick. U can feel lost and alone.

Doing an activity helps u meet people as well. Maybe a language course, a cooking course, learning muay thai or yoga.

#21 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by MADMAC on 18/4/2014 at 08:44

We went down a bit of a rat hole here. Back to the OP:

What might interest you is renting a motorcycle in Nong Khai and riding down along the Mekong to Kong Chiam. Even if you can only get a crappy little 125cc bike, you could ride short legs, doing overnighters at Phon Phisai (I town I liked a lot), Bung Kan, and then hit Ban Phaeng. There's a nice little waterfall there with a decent swimming hole:

From there you could overnight at Tha Uthen. I like this town too. Like Phon Phisai it has a nice feel to it.

After that, ride down the road to Nakhon Phanom. I really like this town. Visit the little Ho Chi Minh museum (a must see) and enjoy some food and nightlife around the vietnamese clock tower in town.

From there head on to That Phanom. The temple there has one of the oldest Chedis in Thailand and while it's heavily touristed, it's almost all Thai tourists.

After that head down to Mukdahan (where I live). While on the way if you ride along the river (not on the 212 that got you this far) you'll pass the Church of the seven Martyrs. This is also worth stopping to check out.

Muk is a busy little city, and since you don't want to spend a lot of time in cities and it has no major sites, one night here is probably right for you. I would recommend a meal at Na Bop restaraunt on the river. The tower is worth a visit.

After leaving and heading towards Don Tan, you'll pass Phu Prateop (so?) national forrest. Some people get a kick out of the rock formations. Not sure what the entry fee is now, but it used to be something absurd like 400 baht. Don Tan is a quiet little Ampur (district city) but it's rural Issan and pleasant enough. From there you'll motor through Chanuman and then on to Khemmerat. I like Khemmerat, it's an old town, with a lot of history to it. Pleasant place to stay.

After that keep heading south to Kong Chiam. This is a low key resort town where the Mekong and Mun rivers merge. It gets good reviews. At that point you might consider crossing into Laos and riding up the other side of the river (the Laos side) which would give you a nice contrast (I am assuming you could do so with a rented bike, but I'm not sure) and go slowly up to Vientiane, seeing the famous Konglor Caves in Tha Khek along the way. I've never ridden that side, so I can't comment much beyond that.

Just food for thought.

Have a great trip. If you make it to Muk look me up.

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

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 18/4/2014 at 11:31

Must see museum hey.

#23 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by MADMAC on 18/4/2014 at 12:45

I couldn't resist

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

Posted by SimplyKitty on 19/4/2014 at 23:40

- thank you for such a comprehensive post. I shall be going through it with a fine tooth comb once I have time. I appreciate your post though - much to think about.

Leonard - as I haven't read Dluek's post in it's entirely yet I am unaware of the "activities" suggested but I have no intention of wandering aimlessly. Cooking classes are on the hit list in each country, yoga definitely is not, Muay Thai is already on the research list as is massage courses...... there are things that will keep me busy in between my personal online work..... and yes one can't avoid other folk for too long! ;- )

Madmac - to be honest getting into real Thailand would be interesting. But maybe with people I know already...? Might wait for my little friend to arrive in Burma to go deep into the depths of rural Myanmar.... Thank you for your post as well. I will watch the YouTube vids when I get home from work...

See no rest for the wicked. I am dreaming of white sands and warm air to get me through this grubby shift........

#25 SimplyKitty has been a member since 13/4/2014. Location: Earth. Posts: 10

Posted by MADMAC on 20/4/2014 at 00:17

I'll admit language is a problem out here, but I have travelled most of this route on my motorcycle and I find it to be really nice. I'll be riding north again to Tha Uthen at least and probably all the way to Nong Khai. If you really want to get off the beaten path, this would be a good way to do it.

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

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