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Questions on first backpacking trip to Southeast Asia

Questions on first backpacking trip to Southeast Asia

Old Nov 4th, 2015, 03:51 PM
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Questions on first backpacking trip to Southeast Asia

On the first week of December I'm going to go on a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia for my first time and I'm thinking about going for about 3-4 months until about March.

As a preliminary idea, here's my thoughts...

Fly to Melbourne, Australia for a few days, then Perth / west coast (Coral Bay, Ningaloo Reef, etc) for about a week. Then from Perth, fly to Bali and work my way north with no set plan or itinerary. Seeing many places along the way.....Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore,Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

My questions are....
#1 Should I do it the other way around? Start perhaps in Hanoi and work my way south to Indonesia then finish in Australia? I'm sort of leaning this way as I'd like to be in Western Australia in March to swim with whale sharks. Then perhaps flying to Central America directly from Sydney, but that's another topic.

#2 Since I will be there for both Christmas and New Years, how is it in Southeast Asia for the holiday's, and is there anywhere in particular that's amazing to be for them?

If you have any must see places or things to do in each of the countries listed above, I'd appreciate hearing about them! If it helps, I'm not scared of traveling anywhere, no matter how dangerous it may be. I'm in my mid 20's male, tall, and travel smart, I've been in some seedy areas before and ended up just fine.
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Old Nov 4th, 2015, 04:17 PM
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Hanoi will be chilly and possibly wet in late December.

There are plenty of worthwhile places in all those countries. Any decent guidebook will list the main ones. You get to pick what interests you.
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Old Nov 4th, 2015, 04:29 PM
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We are at the end of a similar trip lasting a year. My first thought is you are trying to cover a lot of ground in the time you have.

Second thought is check out the weather in each of the countries as it will vary tremendously. Dec to March is great for southern Vietnam, Cambodia Thailand and west cost Malaysia but probably not so great for Indonesia. I find http://www.selectiveasia.com has a good basic guide for when to go /wether in each country. On balance, starting in Hanoi and working south is probably the better bet.

For detailed backpacking info on SE Asia, www.travelfish.org is hard to beat.

There will be parties going on in most major cities over xmas and NYE if that is what you are looking for. Just head for the backpackers district e.g Khan San Rd in Bangkok or Pham Ngu Lao in Saigon.

"I'm not scared of traveling anywhere, no matter how dangerous it may be. " Asia is not a dangerous place but you do need to keep your wits about you. Pickpockets are problem in most places as is theft in some of the cheaper hostels and watch your stuff like a hawk on buses. Hiring a motorbike anywhere in Asia increases your risk of ruining your trip by injury or death exponentially.

Check out Lonely Planet Thorntree for more backpacking info. The average age of members here is over double yours and most have a totally different travel style!

There are so many highlights and things to do in this region that it would be impossible to list them. You may find a few idea on our blog of our current trip:

http://accidentalnomads.com

Favourite city - Saigon ( or maybe Hanoi)
Fav country - Vietnam (or possibly far northern Laos - not on this trip)
Best experience - climbing mount Ijen in Java
Best food experience - Vietnam ( or Malaysia, or Thailand, or Indonesia!)

Best thing to do is get a few guide books from your library and make a list of what you want to see, do and plot an itinerary. Do leave some room to change your mind along the way. That's what make travelling fun.
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Old Nov 4th, 2015, 05:40 PM
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Thank you for the reply! I will absolutely check out the websites you referenced to.

I'm honestly a little shocked you imply I may be short on time. I thought 3-4 months would be adequate time. I personally am not interested in seeing every last temple, if I see one or two that's enough for me. I simply want to travel to enjoy the local scenery, the locals, and relax --- aren't those what everybody wants though...?! Ha!

Something perhaps a little out of the ordinary I'd like to do is buy a motorcycle in Hanoi, drive down through the spine of Vietnam and sell it in Ho Chi Minh city. I forget the specifics of the trip right now but something I'll definitely do.

Another thing I'd love to do is volunteer with the elephants in northern Thailand.

Other than those semi-specific things, there's already many sights I have on my radar in the countries I intend on visiting. I look at it this way as well, if I don't make it somewhere, such as an off the beaten path place such as the Philippines, I'll be perfectly fine with it.
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Old Nov 4th, 2015, 06:25 PM
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"I'm honestly a little shocked you imply I may be short on time"

I am not saying it can't be done, more that you will arguably get more out of your trip by visiting fewer places and staying a bit longer in each. Travel can be slow in Asia sometimes that can be a good thing, such as travelling by boat in th Mekong delta or by train from one end of Vietnam to the other. Other times it can be a real PITA bus travel is generally uncomfortable and I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys travelling to and from airports.

My main point is that each time you move from one place to another you are usually "wasting" the best part of a day. Of course, the journey is sometimes as important as the destination, but do add up the number of destinations you plan on visiting and see how much time you will spend in transit. I am not sure if budget is a major consideration, but moving around a lot does rack up your costs.
As many people have said before, sometimes less is more.
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Old Nov 5th, 2015, 11:01 AM
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>#2 Since I will be there for both Christmas and New Years, how is it in Southeast Asia for the holiday's, and is there anywhere in particular that's amazing to be for them?

Christmas will typically be a non-event in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia (buddhist/muslim etc). NY is celebrated more. NY - be prepared to pay a higher price for accom.

I agree with other posters that even with 4 months you are trying to do too much. Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore,Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. that's 8 COUNTRIES averaging just 2 weeks per country. One can easily spend 1 or 2 weeks in a city or town exploring. If the intention is to visit as many places as possible in 4 months then sure, you can do so but I think you will miss a lot (reminds me of those European ConTiki Tours where you see 15 countries in 15 days and you end up not seeing anything at all as you are too tired from all the travelling).

LESS is MORE is the best way to travel.
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Old Nov 5th, 2015, 08:14 PM
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I've been doing a bit of research, and here's a fairly good idea (I think) of what I'll be doing, with stops along the way....

Thailand - Bangkok and northern Thailand for 16 days

Laos - Vientaine for 4 days (honestly not that interested in Laos)

Vietnam - Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh for 21 days

Cambodia - Sihanouk for 4 days (not that interested in Cambodia either)

Thailand - Koh Phangan, Krabi, and Phuket for 12 days

Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur for 7 days

Singapore - for 7 days

Indonesia - Jakarta, Java, Bali for 14 days

Australia - Perth, Melbourne, Sydney - 14 days

*even though I say now I'm not that interested in Cambodia or Laos, my story can definitely change once I'm there. That's why I'm allotting myself 2 extra weeks just in case.
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Old Nov 5th, 2015, 09:14 PM
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Many of us here have repeatedly gone back to countries and each time we have do so its been a different experience.So in my opinion,doing fewer countries more elaborately would be a good idea.Pace yourself,allow things to soak in.4 countries in 3-4 months will be relaxed.
This way you'll yearn to go back, like most of us did and still doing.
Age is on your side.A pair of wings in your feet, fire in your belly,an open mind and years ahead of you,take your time.
Happy travelling.
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Old Nov 5th, 2015, 11:17 PM
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If you're not that interested in Laos, then it's not really worth paying out for a visa and only visiting Vientiane.
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Old Nov 6th, 2015, 12:31 AM
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If you're just making one stop in Cambodia it should be Siem Reap/Angkor.

If it were up to me (and of course it isn't) I'd cut Singapore and KL way back -- 3 or 4 days maximum. They're expensive and very Westernized.

Indonesia's a huge country and there are a lot more interesting places to visit than Jakarta. If you're coming from Singapore you can fly directly to Yogyakarta. In addition to Central Java (Yogya/Borobudur) I would go to Bromo and Ijen in East Java then take the ferry to Bali.

After Bali there are still some great places to see in Indonesia, like Sulawesi, Sumba, Sumbawa and Flores.
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Old Nov 6th, 2015, 10:54 AM
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>

Agree 100%. Angkor is amazing, and Siem Reap is a great town, I really enjoyed my time there. I also think PP is a needed stop, from a history perspective, but SR over PP if only 1 stop in Cambodia.

Also, I've never been to Aussie, but I've known a LOT of people who started/included it on their months-long trips, and everyone says the same thing--go there first because otherwise you won't be able to afford it. BUT, I don't know if budget is a concern of yours, if not, disregard that.
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Old Nov 6th, 2015, 02:33 PM
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Thank you for your recommendations Marmot, I will highly consider your thoughts on Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Jakarta and expand out further in each country.


needmorevacation: As of just a few hours ago, it's too late to switch around my plans now. Earlier today I booked my flights. Yes, budget is a concern. I've read about how expensive Australia is, I may just use CouchSurfing for the first time. Luckily I have a long time to think about it. I'll probably just wing it like I did in Europe, and will do in Southeast Asia.

My only pre-planning done is my flights, which are:

December 2nd: USA > Bangkok

March 8th: Bali > Perth (next flight TBD)

March 18th: Sydney > Cancun (going directly on a Central America trip)

May 2nd: San Jose, Costa Rica > USA

Didn't realize it until all my flights were booked that this trip will be exactly 6 months, which will be the longest time I've ever been away from home at a time, let alone out of the country.....truly life changing.
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Old Nov 6th, 2015, 09:02 PM
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>I've read about how expensive Australia is

Really? With the exchange rate being around USD 1 = AUD 1.40 it should not cause too much concern. Hostels in major Australian cities or B&Bs will keep the accom costs down.
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Old Nov 7th, 2015, 08:43 PM
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What exactly are your interests and what would you really like to get out of your trip? E.g.mBeautiful countryside, hiking. Climbing mountains, jungles, ancient temples, food, unusual forms of travel, big cities, the "main attractions", partying? This information is going to help people here provide suggestions more relevant to your style of travel


If you are "not that interested" in Cambodia and Laos then just don't go. It will be a waste of time and money which could be better employed elsewhere. Personally, I find them two of the more interesting countries in SE Asia, but that's just me. If you do go I would seriously reconsider Vientiane and Sihanoukville. There are far, far better places to include, again, depending on YOUR interest.

Do you especially like large cities? If not, I would view KL and Singapore as transit points if necessary, but really would bother staying there and definitely not for a week apiece.

Marmots advice on Indonesia is spot on. Bromo, Borobodour and Ijen are all amazing places ( especially the later). Jakarta is a dump IMO and the main reason for going is to start the train journey south. Train travel is easy, cheap and efficient (mostly!) and definite a great experience.

SE Asia lends itself to overland travel and there are some well and less trodden routes. If you are looking for adventure and to get away from the crowds a bit research a few of those. Given your plans so far (and ok, ignoring the fact that Cambodia and Lao don't interest you you could:

Head north from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train or bus stopping along the way. Maybe explore the Mai Hong Sorn loop before heading to Chiang Rai.

Cross the border into Laos and take a boat down river to Luang Prabang ormaybe better still, head further north to Muang Sing, Luang Namtha etc. For some hill tribe trekking.

Cross the border into Vietnam near Dien Phu and thence to Sapa or perhaps even Ha Giang before getting to Hanoi. Not necessarily easy travel, but a lot of fun.

Hanoi to Saigon is easy to fix by train or open bus lots to see along the way.

From Saigon you could head down through the Mekong Delta to Ben Tre and or Cantho, see a few floating markets before heading on to Chau Doc ( great place for a few days!) to get a fast boat to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. If you really don't like PP get a flight out to Jakarta or, if you do, stay awhile and explore more of the country.

Just one option which might work for you, there are loads of variations , one of which would be to do it in reverse if it works better from a weather perspective.

Finally, Australia is expensive but less so since the decline of the AUD over the past year. We were only there forma few weeks and we're staying with family mostly but prices for food and accommodation were on a par with the UK and the USA i.e. Maybe three or four times more expensive than most of SENAsia

Anyway, just a few random thoughts as I lie awake in the middle of the night cruelly suffering with jet lag after travelling for 36 hours from Bangkok to London via Singapore!
Happy planning
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Old Nov 10th, 2015, 09:00 PM
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We all know that the Philippines has a long Christmas celebration. It lasts from December to January. It would be one of the best times to visit since where ever you will be going, the place will be dolled up with Christmas decors as well as events from town to town done to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.
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Old Nov 10th, 2015, 09:00 PM
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We all know that the Philippines has a long Christmas celebration. It lasts from December to January. It would be one of the best times to visit since where ever you will be going, the place will be dolled up with Christmas decors as well as events from town to town done to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.
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Old Nov 14th, 2015, 01:38 PM
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Thank you all for the replies! What interests me most about travel are: sightseeing, partying / drinking, meeting locals as well as other backpacking travelers, going off the beaten track where not many other travelers go. Discovering hidden treasures, and treasuring the small moments (such as having a conversation in very broken english with a local over a bowl of Bun Bo Hue). I enjoy large cities and the countryside equally, I grew up spending time on ranches where the nearest town was 50+ miles away. I now reside in Los Angeles which I consider a large city. In Europe I fell in love with London, and the Austrian village Hallstatt with less than 1k residents. I really don't have a preference whether its a big city or the countryside, as I'll more than likely split my time between the two.

I prefer to stay away from super touristy attractions that are commercialized and that have a tour group for instance. Probably the only exception to that will be Angkor Wat as I've seen it recommended as a must see many times. I'm not particularly interested in museums, and the only exception to that will be the Genocide Museum & Killing Fields.....I think that now, but of course can change once I'm there based on recommendations from other travelers.

I don't think I'll be making it to the Philippines, I have a rough idea of how long I'll stay in each country and wouldn't have ample time to really explore the country. I've determined I'll most likely spend Christmas and New Years in Thailand. Although I do maintain, I am going with no plan & winging it, where anything can happen. I could very well be spending Christmas in a small village in Burma, and thats the beauty of no planning in my opinion.
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Old Mar 24th, 2016, 05:22 PM
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Hi all..am I also in need of some recomendations..My family (6 people total) and I are planning a trip to Southeast Asia in December of 2016 and are struggling to pick which countries to travel to. We have a little over 2 weeks (December 17-January 1 including travel days) and don't want to feel rushed but would still like to experience much of the region. Currently we are considering starting off the trip with 4-5 days in Luang Prabang and then flying into Siem Reap for 4 days and then heading to Koh Rong or another island in the Gluf of Thailand. We also considered spending the entirety of our trip just in Thailand (hitting Bangkok, the north for 4-5 days and then heading south to some beaches) or Vietnam (starting in Hanoi, heading to Sapa, Hoi Ann, and then maybe south if time allows?)

We would love to see some authentic culture, colorful street and floating markets, palaces and temple ruins, rice terraces, elephants and other wildlife, mountains with excellent treks, waterfalls, karst scenery, streets at night lit with lanterns, and just experience real Southeast Asia. I know we have a long wish list but hopefully we can find a few places that can somewhat accommodate all these wants! I would love to avoid places that are overrun with tourism or massive amounts of tourists that is, however I do know that, traveling in peak season, we may experience some of that in some places. We would also like to dedicate at least 5 days to and island or beach.

Please...we need suggestions!! At this point we are open to any and all places! I am worried that in some places we won't be able to find accommodations for 6 without blowing our budget as well as paying for safe intercontinental flights with international flights tacked on to that. Any ideas or suggestied itineraries would be much appreciated!! Thank you!!
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Old Mar 24th, 2016, 07:10 PM
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Grace, your other post does not indicate that you and your family will be backpacking. If you are, it changes much of the planning.
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