Backpacking route

Old Feb 17th, 2022, 10:11 AM
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Backpacking route

Hi all,

New here and hoping people may have some opinions/ideas on a potential backpacking route. My husband and I are in the (very) beginning stages of planning a potential 3-4 month backpacking trip throughout Southeast Asia. We know we’ll have to remain flexible due to COVID but we’re thinking best-case scenario for now.

Bali [2 weeks?]
(Plane to)
Singapore* [1 week]
(Overland to)
Malaysia [fly into Kuala Lumpur] [2 weeks?]
(Plane to)
Borneo [fly into Kota Kinabalu]* [2 weeks?]
(Plane to)
Bangkok [1 week]
(Overland into)
Central and N Thailand [3 weeks]
(Overland into)
Laos [3 weeks]
(Overland into)
Cambodia [1 week]
(Overland into)
Vietnam [3 weeks]

I’m expecting some input saying this will be too rushed, as I know beginners have a tendency to want to “do it all” and end up packing in too much.

Curious what everyone thinks of the general route and how long in each location. For background, my husband and I are outdoorsy so we’re keen to maximize time in more natural/rural areas. We live in NYC, though, so would enjoy a taste of city life on this trip.

As for time of year, we’d be leaving around mid-August and coming back to the US before Christmastime. I thought starting in Bali would be better in order to avoid rainy seasons in as many areas as possible but I know we can’t avoid that completely. We’re okay with that though.

Thanks in advance for any help!

Last edited by helencarey4767; Feb 17th, 2022 at 10:14 AM.
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Old Feb 17th, 2022, 12:21 PM
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That seems a bit long for Singapore and KL, and there are plenty of other things to do on mainland Malaysia. Do take the train or bus to KL.

I am not a fan of Bangkok, but a lot of Fodor's posters are.

You are shortchanging Cambodia, you need nearly that long just for the temples at Angkor Wat.

This trip is old, but might give you some ideas: Wilhelm's Words -- Travels Round Asia 2002
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Old Feb 17th, 2022, 12:29 PM
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Thanks! This is helpful. I had a feeling we may need less time in Bangkok than other people as well so good to know you feel similarly. Many thanks again for the input. Wondering if we should perhaps cut out anything altogether, will rejigger some more and see.
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Old Feb 17th, 2022, 12:37 PM
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Having traveled a number of times in SEAsia, everywhere on your list except Cambodia, what I learned right away that was most valuable to me in the region was that the best way to travel was with a lot of flexibility built in. That meant leaving open the possibility that after a week somewhere I might want to stay longer or I might want to move on sooner. So practically speaking it made sense to not have flights or paid accommodations booked in advance as it’s a part of the world where that isn’t really necessary, nor do last minute arrangements cost more, or not enough more to worry about, often less.

So regarding your itinerary, I’d instead have a list of where you MIGHT want to go next and then play it by ear. I found that experienced fellow travelers were a great resource to some of the best places I went that I hadn’t known about until someone there told me about them. Though it might be painful in the beginning to give up your fixed itinerary, after tossing mine the first time it immediately became the way I traveled from then on. Visas where you need them can be obtained along the way as your plans for moving on firm up. Be brave!
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Old Feb 19th, 2022, 06:16 AM
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My wife and I have taken maybe half a dozen backpacking trips around SE Asia over the last 15 years, each one lasting 4 -6 months. A number of things I have learned;
  1. There is no perfect route
  2. There is no perfect timing
  3. Everyone has different opinions on what to include, exclude
  4. There is never enough time for some places
  5. It is very easy to waste time by spending too long in others - don’t like it , move right on.
  6. You need to be disciplined in what to include and exclude
  7. Too few destinations is better than too many. In the main time travelling from a to b is time wasted.
  8. Pack light!!!!
i am sure there are lots of others I could, but you get the gist, I’m sure.

Two approaches to planning this sort of trip:

TOP DOWN - allocate your time to specific countries and then decide what you want to do and see within those countries. I am guessing that is what you have done above?

BOTTOM UP - decide what sights you want to see, activites you want to do and then work out how much time you need in each country.

Everyone will have their own individual preferences and ours are probably not that dissimilar to yours. We like cities, we like stunning scenery and the countryside. We are not really beach people though. If we end up there is it usually for diving.

A few comments regarding your above itinerary.

I would rather poke myself in the eye with a stick than spend a week in Singapore. i find it sterile and uninteresting ( and very expensive). Hanoi and Saigon I love and it is good to top an tail a visit to Vietnam with those. Bangkok is a major travel hub and impossible to avoid if travelling in Thailand. 3-4 days is enough for the highlights

There are a variety of natural routes through Indochina - Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. We have done it a number of different ways and I am happy to discuss further if you would like. Most routes can be done overland without resort to flying. Lots of river options to for transport. Travel can be a little challenging in some out of teh way places, but all teh more intersections for it. You could easily spend a month in Vietnam, a couple of weeks in Cambodia and three in Laos.

At that time of year the east cost of Malaysia (the less interesting coast, will have the better weather) on balance I think I would be looking at maybe a few days in KL possibly with side trips to Penang and Ipoh, possibly the Cameron Highlands or Taman Negara or;

go straight to Borneo Sabah and Sarawak both have a huge diversity of things to do. KK is a good base as is Kuching
in Sarawak.

i do see the sense in going to Bali early on for the weather. Contrary to popular belief the beaches aren’t great! Perhaps somewhere less visited like Sulawesi or Sumatra in Indonesia. Java would be worth a look!

Anyway, here is a link to our blog covering our travels, a fair amount of which is in SEA https://accidentalnomads.com

Apologies for the formatting which I managed to somehow screw up! If you click on the Destinations tab that will take you to the countries and then the individual posts. Just click on the title for the full post.

Enjoy the planning it is half the fun!


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Old Feb 19th, 2022, 01:05 PM
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Some simple additions:.
Do not rush, SE Asia is not going to close down. What you fail to see this time you can do next time. And most people I know do return to SE Asia
Do talk to the locals where possible
Remember that SE Asia is not just about the sights. The street scenes and the general ambiance is just as interesting and memorable.
Use reputable companies for travel and day trips. Some companies are brilliant, some are terrible. You really do get what you pay for out in SE Asia.
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Old Feb 19th, 2022, 11:25 PM
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As my girlfriend is Laotian living in the states I have only toured Laos. We built a house on her mother's farm on the banks of the Mekong that we use as a base camp. My advice would be to get a travel book or two and or check out travel videos.
Personally I've been on boat tours through a cave in Vang Vieng, did hot air balloon rides, ziplines there as well as the four thousand island area on the southern border. Also did an elephant ride up a mountain to a place called Xepain that was once a site of great battle.
Have fun, be safe and enjoy your adventures.

Last edited by Moderator3; Feb 20th, 2022 at 04:34 AM. Reason: Remove link to YouTube videos
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Old Feb 19th, 2022, 11:54 PM
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I am at a loss to understand what you are going to do for one week in Bangkok; an utterly ugly ocean of concrete with no charm whatsoever and locals who think only of fleecing you; Same for 2 weeks in "Central Thailand", flat like a pizza and nothing to see and do except the ruins of Sukhotai for History fans. As a matter of fact, the only nice things in the country are the islands (if you like to spend days doing nothing on a beach) and the mountains north of Chiang Mai. . Spend more time in Vietnam, a FABULOUS country with everything you want, stunning scenery, very sweet people, great food, and NOBODY is going to try to steal from you. And believe me, I know the difference; I have been living in Bangkok for 7 years (boring, but BIG money !) and live in Vietnam since end of 2007

Last edited by Larsay; Feb 19th, 2022 at 11:57 PM.
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Old Feb 20th, 2022, 08:37 AM
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Yea Bangkok has a very seedy side, but if you can ignore those parts it's a pretty beautiful city in terms of culture/walkability/food/events/markets. The mix of these all these things in one city is pretty remarkable.

If you're looking for more nature then avoid Bangkok, but if you like markets and events there's always something to do.
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Old Feb 20th, 2022, 03:39 PM
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What I cannot stand mainly in Bangkok is the mentality of the people: Basically, if you do not have a BMW or Merc, the latest model of smartphone and a genuine Rolex, and if you do not shop everyday in one of the huge fancy department stores (and brandish their cute shopping bags in the street) , you are a nobody. If you add an appalling racism (example: my Thai MBA students absolutely refused to sit in class with foreigners or to work with them on an assignment), the police harassment towards tourists (absolutely unknown in Vietnam, but not in Cambodia and Vientiane) and the rage to take money out of foreigners' pockets, I see as good only the food and the local products of excellent quality, especially clothes
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Old Feb 21st, 2022, 08:34 PM
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Originally Posted by helencarey4767 View Post
Hi all,

New here and hoping people may have some opinions/ideas on a potential backpacking route. My husband and I are in the (very) beginning stages of planning a potential 3-4 month backpacking trip throughout Southeast Asia. We know we’ll have to remain flexible due to COVID but we’re thinking best-case scenario for now.

Bali [2 weeks?]
(Plane to)
Singapore* [1 week]
(Overland to)
Malaysia [fly into Kuala Lumpur] [2 weeks?]
(Plane to)
Borneo [fly into Kota Kinabalu]* [2 weeks?]
(Plane to)
Bangkok [1 week]
(Overland into)
Central and N Thailand [3 weeks]
(Overland into)
Laos [3 weeks]
(Overland into)
Cambodia [1 week]
(Overland into)
Vietnam [3 weeks]

I’m expecting some input saying this will be too rushed, as I know beginners have a tendency to want to “do it all” and end up packing in too much.

Curious what everyone thinks of the general route and how long in each location. For background, my husband and I are outdoorsy so we’re keen to maximize time in more natural/rural areas. We live in NYC, though, so would enjoy a taste of city life on this trip.

As for time of year, we’d be leaving around mid-August and coming back to the US before Christmastime. I thought starting in Bali would be better in order to avoid rainy seasons in as many areas as possible but I know we can’t avoid that completely. We’re okay with that though.

Thanks in advance for any help!
I'm curious about the sequence from north/ Central Thailand.
I'd be inclined to go from north Thailand to Laos and then to Vietnam and either cross from VN to Cambodia or from SE Thailand..
Your main problem at oresent is complying with all the various covid requirements .
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Old Feb 21st, 2022, 08:42 PM
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The south of Vietnam is not very exciting. So, I recommend that you visit Thailand, then go from the north to Luang Prabang, then fantastic Nong Kiaw (3 days), then minibus NK-Dien Bien Phu, then bus DBP-Sapa. Tour of the northern mountains, then down to Hanoi (3-4 days) and Halong (2 or 3-ady cruise), day train 3 hours Hanoi-Ninh Binh + taxi NB-Tam Coc 8 km (hotel Chez Loan) (3 days), night train HNINH BINH-Hue, Hue, very beautiful Hoi An, then NIGHT Train Danang-Saigon and the Delta
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Old Mar 7th, 2022, 12:58 PM
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I would definitely recommend you to visit the state of Sarawak in Borneo, Malaysia. Kuching is a vibrant city where the people are really friendly.There is a lot to do; one can go to Bako national park or visit the Sarawak Cultural Village. I did my internetship there. I even wrote a review about my stay in Kuching . You find it here below if you are interested. Don't mind mine English (I'm not a Native Speaker . From Kuching you can fly to Miri and visit the Niah and Mulu caves. Really beautiful!!

Goodluck!!!!Headhunters and Hornbills in amazing Borneo

It seems ages ago when I first sat foot in Kuching. A vibrant city meaning ‘cat’ in Malay. Of course, I did not know that back then because I was full of mixed emotions. I left my safe environment for a six-months adventure in a far-away country. At that time, I studied International Tourism & Management Consultancy. I needed an internship so I followed my heart and chose the Sarawak Cultural Village as my destination.

When I landed on the soil of Borneo, I got in the airport taxi and I noticed a giant flag hanging in front of an old and charming colonial building. ‘Borneo; land of the Hornbills & Headhunters’, was written on it. As the taxidriver was cruising along the mystical Sarawak river, a feeling best described as a mix of excitement, fear and homesickness shivered through my body. I was only 22 years old. It must have been the same feeling James Brooke had when he first landed on the dangerous shores of Borneo. Headhunters lived in the deep jungle and could chop off enemy’s heads before they could blink with their eyes. Nowadays, the stories of headhunters are only told in schools or when you book the headhunter’s tour in the Sarawak Cultural Village.

During my first week at the village, which is in fact a museum, I was asked to visit all the seven houses depicting the ancient tribes of Sarawak. As I wandered around, I saw all these beautiful houses belonging to exotic tribes such as the Iban, Urung Ulu and Bidayu. I imagined, how good and simple life must have been in the old days.
I was dreaming of a smartphone-free world when my eye caught a skeleton head hanging in front of a little old Iban cottage. As I was wondering if it could be a headhunter’s trophy, a beautiful bird flew right over my head. I was stunned by the beauty of it. I heard myself mumble, ‘so that is the famous Hornbill’…. This place will always stay in my heart!
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Old Mar 7th, 2022, 11:00 PM
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Thank you for sharing your experience. We loved Sarawak and spent a long time there after attending a friends naming ceremony in Bario, in the Kelabit Highlands. We only planned on a couple of days in Kuching but ended up staying a couple of weeks! We have returned several times since. loved the Cultural Village and once attended the world music festival nearby.
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Old Mar 8th, 2022, 12:31 AM
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Originally Posted by crellston View Post
Thank you for sharing your experience. We loved Sarawak and spent a long time there after attending a friends naming ceremony in Bario, in the Kelabit Highlands. We only planned on a couple of days in Kuching but ended up staying a couple of weeks! We have returned several times since. loved the Cultural Village and once attended the world music festival nearby.
Thank you for sharing your story as well. I didn't had the time to stay for the world music festival but attended the Gawai Tourism night. I recognize that; once you set foot on Sarawak, you always are longing to go back there'

I am making plans to visit Sarawak soon, a trip down memory lane, but there are still strict covid measures. Maybe if I travel via Langkawi. It seems you can enter Malaysia if you first stay for a 5 or 7 day period in Langkawi. Depending if one had a booster. If, after this period you are tested negative you can travel freely within Malaysia
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Old Mar 27th, 2022, 03:18 AM
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Hey Larsay, I am supposed to travel to Vietnam from 19.4,2022 until 12.5.2022 - I would love to hear a bit from you on the current situation in Vietnam, Covid-wise. Is there an obligation to go around outside with masks on? are bars open? are attractions and touristic sites open?

Thanks in advance!
Roy.
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