As my friends recently set-off for to spend their 6-week holiday to traveling through Southeast Asia, and I receive glowing reports from my friend traveling in Vietnam
(Vietnam has to be my favorite country in Asia by far.Â The people seem to be much for genuinely friendly here than in any other country and it is not so underdeveloped that I feel completely isolated from the rest of the world.Â It’s also really beautiful here.Â We went to Halong Bay the other day in the north, about 2 hours from Hanoi.Â It was so pretty with all the limestone mountains and natural made caves… very cool.Â Now we are in Ninh Binh for 2 days.Â Today we saw some more natural caves but these were not in the ocean but through rice fields.Â The rice fields in Vietnam are gorgeous.),
I have to wish I were going too.Â Though Iâ€™ve already been to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, and Malaysia, I would happily go again to ride elephants in northern Thailand, explore the welcoming culture of Vietnam, photograph hill tribes in Laos, lay on the beach in Thailand, and indulge in eminently affordable Indochina cuisine.
Well, since I canâ€™t go myself, I will just have to be satisfied with my memories, photos, and living vicariously through my friends with their trip reports.Â So to help their planning, and relive memories, I wrote up a few things that I remembered from trips (and heard from other people) and offer them as suggestions to my friends and other travellers.
- Bangkokâ€”Though touristy, the Kao San Road area is a fun, active area where backpackers can compare travel notes and build a community.
- Lonely Planetâ€™s restaurant recommendations in Bangkok are great
- Donâ€™t let the touts try to trick you into believing that a certain cultural or other tourist site is closed for the day.Â We had heard the warning numerous times and so thought we were prepared.Â But, nonetheless, on our way to the Royal Palace (I forgot what itâ€™s called), we were approached and told it was closed for a special event of the royal family, and while it could have been a valid argument, we knew better.Â Therefore, we responded, thanks for the tip, but weâ€™ll go check ourselves.Â Turns out, it was just a ploy to get us to buy into their touring/shopping scam.Â These people who will try to trick you are everywhere.Â Beware.Â Tell them no.Â Check out the situation for yourself.
- Koh Samuiâ€”Too developed, over-priced and touristy for the average backpacker.
- Koh Phangnanâ€”Relaxing days on the beach, picture-perfect sunset walks on the beach, affordable luscious food cooked in residentsâ€™ houses, hot and sunny.Â Altogether a better alternative to Koh Samui, if you can stomach the boat ride.Â (Tip: Stand up, or at least put pressure on your knees, during the boat ride to minimize seasickness.Â Thereâ€™s a function in your knees that regulates your balance and therefore reduces seasickness.Â I learned this in sailing class.)
- But whichever island you choose, wear SUNSCREEN!Â And make sure itâ€™s applied all over and reapply.Â That was one of the worst sunburns I ever got.
- My friend also recommends the beach side Thai massages.
- Pay the extra money and spring for the luxury of air-conditioned roomsâ€”itâ€™ll be worth it.
- Not my favorite country in the region, but the Temples of Angkor are a must!
- Temples of Angkorâ€”Try to see either sunrise or sunset at Angkor; itâ€™s truly a mesmerizing experience.
- Donâ€™t wear yourself out using the temples as adult-sized jungle gymsâ€”the heat and humidity will kill you; instead take the time to appreciate the architectural and structural wonder from the ground.
- If youâ€™ve seen the Royal Palace in Bangkok, the one in Phnom Penh isnâ€™t worth the time.Â Unless youâ€™re committed to seeing the killing fields and other sites of the Pol Pot regime, Phnom Penh can be skipped altogether.
- A wonder of a country in S.E. Asia.Â Itâ€™s amazing how fantastic this country is given its recent history, lack of outlet to the sea, and somewhat limited natural resources (that the Thais keep stealing)
- Take the overland route through Laoâ€”you will appreciate the drive as you see the varying countryside and can interact with locals.Â Just be careful not to step off the side of the road and into a latent landmine.
- Spend some extra time in Luang Prabang.Â Its no surprise this has become the new backpackers resting place, with its colourful night market, range of eateries and accommodations, temples, monasteries, and sunsets overlooking the river.Â All of it will enchant you and keep you here longer than you expectedâ€”plan for it.
- Hereâ€™s to hoping I get to Vietnam sooner rather than later.Â Since Vietnam just joined the WTO and opened its tourism industry to foreign competitors, the influx of tourists will undoubtedly wear away at this countryâ€™s notable charms.
- If you have the choice, skip Malaysiaâ€™s beaches in favor of Thailandâ€™s or Vietnamâ€™s.
- Malacca was a very nice smaller city in peninsular Malaysia, including a Buddhist canteen where you can eat for free (yes, thatâ€™s right, Free!).
- We stayed in a very friendly, hospitable guesthouse.Â It was across from a lovely cafe with great desserts.
- We also attended the evening light show, which was informative regarding the colonial history of Malacca. Thereâ€™s no reason to buy a ticketâ€”its not exactly sold out and there is no one to check tickets.
- Itâ€™s my understanding that Kuala Lumpur (KL) doesnâ€™t have much appeal (just another large city in Asia) unless youâ€™re shopping for cheap Malaysian manufactured goods (shoes) or enthralled by the Petronas Towers.
- Teman Negara (a national park on peninsular Malaysia) got rave reviews from my friends, especially the night safari where they saw all kinds of large jungle animals.Â But apparently itâ€™s not an easy trip from KL to the Natâ€™l park.
- If it were my choice, Iâ€™d opt to go to Borneo and Sarawak in search of a more remote location and opportunities to interact with native people and explore the jungle.
- A great city but it hardly needs to be on a backpackers â€˜not-to-miss listâ€™ unless youâ€™re longing for stainless steel skyscrapers, ethnic diversity, upscale shopping, a modern transportation system, or Western food.
In Laos, Cambodia, and parts of Vietnam and Thailand, anti-malarial tablets are a must.Â Also, in all countries, wear bug repellent daily to avoid dengue fever and just plain annoying mosquito bites.
In preparing for the trip, pack loose-fitting, breezy, cool clothing, as it will be hot and humid.Â A rain jacket/poncho might also be a good idea, especially in the rainy season.Â Also, make sure to bring along enough bug repellent and sunscreen to last you through daily usage.
Of course, itâ€™s been almost 2 years since I travelled in the region (except for a recent 5 days in Singapore), so for updated reports and a broader perspective of what to see and do, visit travel message boards like Travelfish and LPâ€™s Thorn Tree.
Happy Travelling! and take me with you next timeÂ Â 😉